Thursday, January 3, 2008

First Half in Review

Now that the the dust has settled in the Nou Camp and the first half of Madrid's season has ended, let's review what the team has done up to this point:

Best Game:
Madrid v. Villareal September 2, 2007

The best game of the year was only the second game of the season for Madrid. Coming off an impressive debut against Atletico Madrid, the team put on a show at El Madrigal.

The game was the complete package for fans as the first half was thrilling back and forth action between two very even teams. But then in the second half Madrid completely dismantled their opponents and put five balls behind the net. This game was not only visually great, but it was also huge psychologically because it put all of Europe on high alert; no one really knew at this point what Schuster's Madrid were going to be like.

Best Signing:
Wesley Sneijder

The young Dutchman came much to the relief of Madrid fans as he filled two critical areas for the team: a creative midfielder and a dead ball specialist. He quickly became a fan favorite when he was instrumental in Madrid's early victories and after the first few games was the leading goal scorer in La Liga. After his initial goal scoring explosion, he cooled down a bit and instead has taken a more supportive role, but he has nonetheless become a vital member of the squad.

Most Improved:

This was a very difficult category to choose but in the end, Robinho gets the nod for several reasons. Before this season Robhino was constantly criticized for his inability to turn his potential into a reality. This seemed to all change during the Copa America where he was made one of the central figures in Brazil's offense and Robinho absolutely flourished in the role. He brought that confidence and spirit back with him to Spain when the season commenced and hasn't looked back.

The man is everywhere on the attack, looking dangerous when he shoots and when he creates for others. His pace, power and finesse make for a deadly combination on the pitch. Watching last year's Clasico over the weekend, where Robinho was having trouble cracking the starting eleven, and comparing that to this year made it very clear who the most improved was.

Best Player:
Iker Casillas

Another extremely difficult category to choose considering what great performances many on the squad have turned in, in the end "San Iker", as he's been called for his miraculous saves, wins out.

No other player has changed the outcome of games as Casillas. He is often forgotten because he doesn't put the ball in the back of the net but without this rock in between the posts Madrid would not find themselves atop La Liga. This is especially true when one considers how shaky Madrid's defense was in the beginning of year.

So far this has been a list of only positives so here are some areas for improvement:

Inconsistent Play:
One week they'll look dangerous and free flowing, the next they'll grind out a one nil victory and not impress in the least.

Schuster and Calderon's Comments:
Schuster comparing Madrid to Roger Federer and Calderon saying that Messi wouldn't crack Madrid's starting eleven are both ridiculous and irritating. The only thing they are accomplishing is adding fuel to the fire for Madrid's opponents. As if they aren't already fired up to play Real Madrid, teams now have the incentive to make management eat their words. Please just shut up and let the scores do the talking.

Signing Arjen Robben:
All that needs to be said has been said in a prior post so it need not be repeated now, but the fact that it is late December and he has yet to play a game completely match fit is alarming. Hopefully he will have a second half that makes all the critics take back what they've said.

It's been a fantastic first half of the season for all the right reasons. Last year's first half was fascinating but mostly because of the saga that was Capello. This year the focus has been on the pitch where it needs to be.

Here's to an even better second half.