by Ifreke Inyang
Seven yellow cards, one red, two penalties – both converted – some Barcelona pass mastery, the odd spat and a 10-man Real Madrid fight back. That’s the starter done. So if you can, forget last weekend’s El Clasico. This was the first of a four-course offering over 18 days that takes in three competitions – league, cup and Champions League. The intensity and hype is set to become even double. The front pages of football newspapers and websites may have already outdone themselves and exhausted their exciting headlines. Whatever the clichéd headline, what these sensational reporters are probably myopic about is that, these two Spanish heavyweights will do battle three more times before the end of this season. They Spanish League may already be out of Madrid’s reach as the Catalonians have established a seemingly insurmountable 8-point lead with six games left. But there is all to play for in the Copa de Rey and Champions League. Four months back, I would have handed all three titles to Pep Guardiola. But after last weekend’s 1-1 draw, I’ll rather not take the bet just yet.
I think Mourinho has learnt his lessons. A lesson we all knew from time immemorial – You don’t take on Barca at their attacking game, except you are, er, Arsenal. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Jose Mourinho’s current side can also boast of being the most efficient and attacking side in El Clasico’s league history, having netted 263 goals in all—11 more than Barca. However, they are however losing the edge in the race for the price of the most powerful Spanish club ever. In their last five home encounters against the Blaugrana, they have only won 2 and lost 3. Even worse, they have conceded 13 goals, while they have only managed to score 9. This thus gives Barcelona an average of 2.4 goals per match, and Los Blancos can merely be content with an average of 1.6 goals netted per game.
Statistics never bother the Portugese. Especially when it comes to one obssession – winning his third Champions League trophy with his third club. Looking ahead to the semi-finals against rivals Barcelona, Mourinho insisted his side have a good chance of advancing to the final but claimed their league and cup final double with the Catalans will be the main focus for now. “Let’s see what happens [against Barcelona]. We have ambition, a semi is a semi and anything can happen,” he stated. “They have a great situation with lack of suspensions and we don’t have that. We were punished by UEFA for poor yellow cards. We have two matches against them before the semi-finals and it is time to think about them first.”
That’s the typically bullish Mourinho. Always confident in his know-how and never expects defeat. Most managers spend their time anxiously looking over their shoulder, trying to judge any darkening in the mood of their employer. For Jose Mourinho, though, it has always been different. His eyes are always cast deep into the future, as he carves the next lapidary achievement on to his legacy by force of will. Anything that besmirches his success sits uneasily with the Portuguese Napoleon and for all his European frustrations with Chelsea, his combative relations with the Italian press at Internazionale, or even the loss of a nine-year unbeaten home record to modest Sporting Gijon this month, it is November 29 that is the greatest stain on Mourinho’s career so far: the 5-0 humbling by Barcelona in the Clasico.
It is a marked date he wants to consign to the past. Having secured Cristiano Ronaldo score a penalty to earn a point in the first of the four games the two teams will play, Mourinho now has an intensive period ahead of him to find redemption. Next up is the final of the Copa del Rey at the Mestalla. And it is public opinion which is of course backed by history that Mourinho never loses in a final. Yet, you have to admit that the game do not resonate in the Madrid imagination like the two semi-finals, at the end of April and beginning of May, and Mourinho knows it. This might be one of the greatest civic rivalries in world football but for Mourinho, it’s personal. So get ready football and yes, theatre lovers. It’s Lights, Camera, Crowd… Drama!