On Sunday night, a rainstorm was dumping by the buckets at El Madrigal during the game against Levante. Very similar to what Levante was doing to us tactically and emotionally on the pitch. As they say in Spanish, they gave us"un baño" (a shower).
The same metaphor can be extended to our season so far. Slick, fast and beautiful have been replaced by slow, tedious and predictable to describe our style of play. It is true we had some good moments, most recently against Manchester City but these moments have been sparse so far.
6 losses 4 draws and only a solitary win in 11 games so far this season. If you have thought that it can’t get any worse, think again.
In less than 24 hours we get to play our worst rival in terms of match-ups who are in their best form in the past two years. Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Even during our best times, we lost at the Bernabeu convincingly. 13-33 is the balance of the goals at the Bernabeu.
'Los Blancos' for their part are firing on all cylinders. Barring a minor hiccup where they dropped points against Levante (L) and Racing (D), they have been scoring either 4 or 6 goals in each of the other 6 games. Ronaldo and Higuaín are taking turn to score in threes. Real Madrid 2011 is much more dangerous the 2010 version. What was a 12-13 player rotation is now deeper with 15-16 players to rotate. This doesn’t include Sahin who hasn’t played a minute yet due to injuries and Granero, who hasn’t had much playing team as the players ahead of him like Özil, Kaka, and Di María have had excellent seasons so far.
They come into this game after having brushed aside the nouveau rich Málaga in one half of slick, pacy and at times breath-taking football. If they can play with that rhythm, I fear for our team.
Podcast: Sid, Allen and Ravi do a quick analysis of the game. Duration 11m 45s.
Ask yourself this question.
How many of our players can play in Real Madrid's starting eleven?
I'd say zero. May be Bruno instead of Lass or Khedira but even that is pushing it.
Our style is the perfect foil for their vertigo-inducing counterattacks and direct style of football. We play narrow, they play wide. We play a high defensive line, ripe for pickings especially with their under 10-second counterattack, box to box.
Villarreal fullbacks vs. Cristiano, Di Maria & Kaka:
This is as lopsided as it can get. Catalá (LB) and Zapata/Mario (RB) will have their hands full. If they attack, they will be in big trouble tracking back for the counter attacks. If they don’t attack, Villarreal won’t be able to keep the possession and they haven’t been very good defending without the ball this season.
Bruno vs. Xabi Alonso
If Xabi plays; this will be an interesting match-up to watch as along as the game is still competitive. If Alonso played every minute of Real Madrid so far, Bruno has similar stats for Villarreal. Tireless worker. For all the dazzling speed and technique of Real Madrid's attackers, Xabi is the hub that makes it all happen. If Bruno has any success against Xabi, that will translate into more ball possession in the midfield for us, which means lesser counterattacking chances for CR7 and Co.
I have read some rumours that Mourinho might rest Xabi for this game. If they are true could see Coentrão in his position.
Cani & Borja Valero vs. Real Madrid fullbacks
Assuming that Ramos will play as a centre-half, Marcelo and Arbeloa will be the fullbacks. Cani and Borja need to act as the first line of defence to snuff out the counterattacks and make them pass laterally and slow down their build up a bit. Especially Marcelo who tends to attack a lot.
If there is any spot of a bother for Real Madrid, it is their inability to breakdown a team set-out to defend with 9 men behind the ball. Precisely the sort of a tactical scheme that Villarreal can’t play because they don’t have the personnel.
Villarreal forwards vs. Pepe-Ramos
This could have been more interesting if Nilmar was available. Rossi-Ruben or Rossi-Camuñas could still cause a problem or two. Especially if they can draw an early card off of either. Cani with is driving runs could potentially draw some fouls in dangerous areas but all of this is predicated upon having some sort of a control in the midfield and keeping the ball long enough to create some danger.
Squads for the game
Goalkeepers: Casillas, Adan, Mejias
Defenders: Ramos, Arbeloa, Marcelo, Varane, Pepe, Coentrao
Midfielders: Ozil, Di Maria, Xabi Alonso, Callejon, Khedira, Kaka, Altintop
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain, Benzema
Likely XI (4-2-3-1)
Casillas; Marcelo-Pepe-Ramos-Arbeloa; Khedira-Xabi/Coentrão;Cristiano-Özil/Kaka-Di Maria; Higuaín.
Goalkeepers: Diego Lopez, Cesar
Defenders: Mario, Zapata, Gonzalo, Musacchio, Joan Oriol, Catala
Midfielders: Bruno, Marcos Senna, Borja Valero, De Guzman, Hernan Perez, Cani, Camuñas, Marcos Gullon
Forwards: Marco Ruben, Rossi
Likely XI (4-?-?)
Garrido is under siege. He has used 4-4-2 at times especially when Nilmar was available. He has also used 4-2-3-1 with Hernán Pérez as a wide forward in the past couple of games. It worked will against City and didn’t work at all against Levante. When the chips are down one should go with the something the team is most comfortable with and play every player in his best position. This means we should go 4-4-2 and play Zapata as a centre-half. The rumoured Garrido's 'ultimatum' is 3 point in the next two games. That effectively means ‘win the Rayo game’. He should scheme this game keeping that in mind.
Can he find a way to relieve the burden of 'saving their coach's job' off of the players backs?
If he can achieve that and the team has fun out there, we might see a good game after all. But on the other hand, if the players play more tense than usual, they will be in for a long night.
Here is my 4-4-2:
Lopez; Mario-Zapata-Musacchio-Catalá; Bruno-Senna, Cani-Borja; Rossi,Ruben
It is going to be a very difficult game. As they say "let us hope for the best and prepare for the worst".
Endavant Villarreal! Siempre Endavant!