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José Mourinho and Real Madrid have Barcelona on the defensive April 26, 2011

Posted by Daniel Martin in General.

El exceso de altura del césped del estadio Santiago Bernabéu también ha sido motivo de mofa en internet.

The tune has changed in Madrid. Only four days after describing Real Madrid as “a side with no personality” and a “mouse” compared with Barcelona‘s “lion”, Alfredo di Stéfano, the club’s greatest player and honorary president, hailed José Mourinho as a saviour. “Madrid’s appetite for victory doesn’t happen with the flick of a switch,” the 84-year-old wrote in Marca. “It was the result of the work headed up by Mourinho since he arrived. I hope he stays for many more years.”

Amazing what difference a trophy makes. In between Di Stefano’s contrasting newspaper columns, Madrid picked up their first piece of silverware in three years, defeating Barcelona in extra-time, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 42nd goal of the season, to win the Copa del Rey. It felt like a seminal moment for Madrid as well as Mourinho, and struck a psychological blow halfway through a run of four season-defining fixtures in 18 days against their arch-rivals.

Barcelona had won the previous five meetings, including that extraordinary 5-0 hammering at Camp Nou in November, before this Clásico series started. Yet the 1-1 draw Madrid salvaged against Barcelona in La Liga nine days ago, when they recovered from going a man and a goal down, allied to victory over Pep Guardiola’s side last Wednesday, has changed the landscape ahead of the Champions League semi-final.

Barcelona remain formidable opponents but they have lost their air of invincibility as Wednesday’s first leg at the Bernabéu comes into view.

Mourinho and Madrid have got under Barcelona’s skin and to such an extent that Guardiola has been forced to defend the unthinkable – the way his team play. “It’s as if our style has become an excuse for us having lost the cup final,” said Guardiola as the postmortem began in Catalonia. “Playing attacking football is the only way I understand, it’s our club’s philosophy and I’m not going to change it. We are going to attack and to try to score goals at the Bernabéu.”

Mourinho would not want it any other way. At this stage of the competition last year, his Internazionale team eliminated Barcelona after a brilliant counterattacking performance at San Siro, where the visitors had 65% of the possession in each half but lost 3-1. The deficit left Guardiola’s side with too much work to do in a second leg that Barcelona won 1-0 and Mourinho described as “a spectacular match from the point of view of defensive organisation” and “the most beautiful defeat in my life”.

The Portuguese has moved clubs but the pragmatist in him with never change. In the Copa del Rey final, he employed three defensive midfielders, with Xabi Alonso sitting slightly deeper than Pepe and Sami Khedira. Playing with a high-tempo and aggressive approach in the first half that seemed to take Barcelona by surprise, Alonso, Pepe and Khedira snapped into tackles and denied their opponents the time and space to play the incisive, freeflowing football that cut Madrid to pieces five months earlier.

It was not always easy on the eye – Pepe could have been sent off in the first half and Alonso was fortunate to see the game out as Barcelona began to monopolise possession and Madrid retreated – but the gameplan worked and delivered the required result, which is all that matters in Mourinho’s world. “Only a few days ago someone called me a coach who wins titles and not football,” Mourinho said, responding to criticism from Johan Cruyff. “Thank you. I like being a coach who wins titles.”

The Spanish title will almost certainly be beyond him after Barcelona maintained their eight-point lead at the top on the weekend, although Saturday’s results highlighted Madrid’s greater strength in depth. While Barcelona laboured to a 2-0 win over Osasuna, courtesy of David Villa’s first goal in 12 games and a late second from the substitute Lionel Messi, who took his tally for the season to 50, Mourinho watched three players who were on the bench in the Copa del Rey final, Gonzalo Higuaín, Karim Benzema and Kaká, score the goals that gave Madrid a 6-3 win at Valencia.

Those resources give Mourinho the capacity to tinker with his team selection and it will be intriguing to see whether he once again deploys Ronaldo in a central attacking role. A couple of changes will be enforced.

Khedira is sidelined with a thigh injury, which means that Lassana Diarra is likely to come in for the German, although finding a replacement for the suspended Ricardo Carvalho promises to be more problematic, especially as Mourinho will be reluctant to drop Pepe back from midfield.

Everything points to a fascinating battle and one that will need a much stronger referee than Alberto Undiano Mallenco, whose leniency in the Copa del Rey final arguably owed much to Mourinho’s comments beforehand about the need for “equal decisions”.

It was a classic Mourinho tactic and it would be no surprise to hear more of the same as he leaves no stone unturned in pursuit of the victory that will allow him to dance on Barcelona’s Champions League grave for the second year running.

(Photo retrieved from Marca.com and article retrieved from The Guardian online)



1. rafa - April 28, 2011

First of all I’m glad for football, because everybody knows that Barcelona is the team which plays the best in the world. Having said that, if I were fan of Real Madrid I’d feel a bit embarrassed because a team of that stature can’t play this way… as a tiny team, coward, waiting in their pitch, etc… that’s not Real Madrid tradition. In my opinion Pepe’s sending-off can’t be an excuse ( his red card was fair), because Barcelona played better during the whole match. What can I say about Mourinho? Well I think he’s not cheating anybody, it’s just his way, I don’t like it at all, but when Florentino signed him, he knew his way…. so now there’s nothing left to say, not excuses….if you play with fire, you can burn yourself.

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