This is the second in a series of articles I have entitled "Best of Spain." This is a project to translate or reinterpret the outstanding articles in the Spanish press into English, for the pleasure of those non-hispanohablantes among us.
I have here given full credit to the authors where it is their due, including a link to the article in question, but as this is a somewhat loose translation of a highly idiomatic language, much of the style is my own and some of the ideas necessarily embellished.
Note that my translation and publication of this piece does not necessarily entail my endorsement of the original author's opinions.
The inspiration for this article is a piece entitled "Kaká y dinamita" by Diego Torres, published in El País on 20/08/09.
Kaká saw out of the corner of his eye Granero making a diagonal run. He had the ball under his feet and his head up. With one fluid movement of his foot he slotted the ball through the defence with the back of his heel. Granero picked up the superb pass one-on-one against Weidenfeller and coolly knocked the ball into the far corner with his first touch.
This moment of pure inspiration pushed Madrid forward at the beginning of their penultimate friendly of a pre-season campaign that has at times failed to impress.
Granero’s goal confirmed that the squad’s abundance of talent will extricate Madrid from more than one difficult situation in the months to come. The players have gained pace; physically they are in good condition. However, the coach, Manuel Pellegrini, seems confident neither in his schematic nor in the players who are to enact it. It would be odd if he were sure at this stage. The players are very good, but there are many of them, some recently arrived, who he still does not know well.
The proof is that by the end of a half hour’s play, Pellegrini had identified enough problems with how the team was functioning that he ordered the much-maligned Robben to start warming up.
Predisposed to experimentation and no doubt thinking of the suspension that will prevent Pepe from starting the La Liga season, Pellegrini made Metzelder and Albiol the core of his defence. Encouraged by this scientific spirit, the Chilean coach moved Lass to right-back and put Pepe in his place; to what end, no one knows.
The truth is that Pepe never looked comfortable. He covered what he needed to, put the pressure on when needed, and swung to the right and to the left when necessary. But when he had the ball, he hoofed it up field in search of the forwards or passed it back to the keeper. By the end of the evening, one could say that he had trod on every square meter of grass, rushing back and forth all over the pitch.
Football has specialists. In order to play in the center of midfield, Madrid signed Xabi Alonso, a player that conforms to the orthodoxy of his position. Yesterday, Pepe—no doubt inspired by the best of intentions—got in the way of Xabi Alonso. The Basque play-maker did not partner well with his colleague. The result was that Madrid’s game lost continuity.
Dortmund’s pressure continually seemed to disconcert the Spaniards. Madrid lost the ball often and Ronaldo and Benzema didn’t get even the scraps of what little service remained.
Xabi Alonso’s only recourse was a long pass searching out the speed of Benzema, but he failed to convert. Benzema was left one-on-one with Weidenfeller but the German shot-stopper did well to narrow his shot angle.
Dortmund began to stretch their opponents and Casillas began to labor. Each corner, each free kick became a solid opportunity for the Germans. Madrid began to demonstrate their weakness at defending set-plays. Their defensive headers worsened, with Barrios and Rangelow both missing glorious chances. Later, Kuba tried his luck against Casillas one-on-one but the Spaniard kept his clean sheet.
Pellegrini brought in Robben for Granero at the break. The entrance of the Dutchman didn’t greatly improve Madrid’s movement of the ball, but it did cause them to occupy the spaces more efficiently. With Robben, the team recovered something of its sharp edge. He is astonishingly fast and has already begun to mesh very well with Kaká. The Brazilian reads Robben’s runs and inclinations extremely well.
The pair collaborated, if only incidentally, on Madrid’s second goal of the match. When the ball went out for a corner, Kaká bounced it into the box and Robben connected with a stunning volley that flew into the roof of the goal.
Robben celebrated his goal by running to the bench in order to dedicate it to Wesley Sneijder. His compatriot was coming off of a miserable day. In the morning, Madrid’s directors had announced that he had to find a new team because the coach didn’t think him essential and the club didn’t want to waste the opportunity to sell him. The president, Florentino Pérez, wants to recoup some of the club’s massive summer spending, and so Sneijder didn’t strap on his boots for the Dortmund game.
Higuaín and Raúl came on for the last stretch of the game. The Westfalenstadion continued to shake with the enthusiasm of its fans even as the game began to run away from their team. Robben again connected with Kaká and the Argentine striker with him to produce the third goal, the Brazilian putting Robben through with a superb throughball which the Dutchman cut back to the onrushing Higuaín.
The fourth goal was handed to Kaká after Robben won a penalty after knocking on a good ball from Xabi Alonso just inside the box. Once again, the partnership that worked the best wasn’t the much-vaunted Kaká and Ronaldo double act but rather that of Kaká and Robben. The caprice of football, one might say.
Casillas flung a ball behind the defense of Dortmund that Raúl deftly tucked away in the 88th minute, thus completing the rout.