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Barça thrashing reminds Mourinho of his Madrid challenge

Spain's clásico showed how far Real Madrid must improve if they are to compete with Barcelona’s beautiful game.


The clásico was not a day to remember for Mourinho.

Had John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty voice been applied to José Mourinho’s post-match press conference after his Real Madrid side was humbled 5-0 by reigning champion Barcelona at Camp Nou, it wouldn’t have sounded entirely out of place.

“Humiliation?” asked Mourinho rhetorically. “Not a bit of it… just don’t mention the result.” 
It was the Portuguese schemer’s heaviest defeat in a glittering career that has made him the most valuable manager in the world by any measure. However straight a bat Mourinho plays when under the cosh, a five-goal thrashing at the stadium of Real’s archrival is not going to sit well with a man used to winning.

Unfortunately for Mourinho, he has little time to lick his wounds, with home matches of equal import to the destination of the Liga title coming up at the Bernabéu: resurgent Valencia, then Gregorio Manzano’s erratic Sevilla and third-placed Villarreal visit in consecutive weeks. Mourinho has some work to do. It’s worth noting that Barcelona was Mourinho’s first match against one of La Liga’s traditional “grandes”, its win over Atlético in the Madrid derby now so customary it has ceased to matter on a wider scale.

Unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions leading in to the clásico, Mourinho has forged a system that works – against most teams. Against Barcelona, the lack of a true holding midfielder– Lassana Diarra’s introduction was too little too late, with what Vicente del Bosque likes to call his “bajitos” running amok in midfield– coupled with Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira’s comparative lack of mobility, essentially saw the game won in the first 20 minutes. Leo Messi was out of the blocks like a dervish and Xavi and Andrés Iniesta were busy snapping at the heels of Real’s shell-shocked midfield. It could have been worse, had the Barça number 10’s curling drive on five minutes snuck in at Casillas’ far post.

Mourinho’s decision to fight fire with fire –Gonzalo Higuaín’s injury had given him the perfect excuse to leave the misfiring France striker Karim Benzema on the bench and add some steel to his midfield, but he shunned this option– is testament to the attacking mentality the Real coach has adopted since arriving in Spain; but it was an ultimately flawed tactic. With Barcelona keeping possession with such ease as to verge on mockery, and more capable than Real of launching lightning counter-attacks, the stark truth is that the home side might have won by eight or nine. A particular passage of play in the second half will have had Spain coach Vicente del Bosque purring and stroking his moustache as though it were Blofeld’s cat – Euro 2012 is a formality for Spain when seven of Barça’s starting line-up are first-choice in their positions for the national team.

For several minutes, the only sniff Real had of the ball was when it found its way to Víctor Valdés and the Barça stopper thumped it back upfield. Real was chasing shadows and the Catalans were making it look like child’s play, to the accompaniment of jubilant “olés” from the stands. Mourinho beat Barcelona with Inter Milan at the Camp Nou last season by letting the Catalans keep the ball and setting up two defensive lines in a virtual 5-5-0 formation to soak up the pressure: a negative tactic, but Inter had already torn Barça to shreds with counter-attacking football at the San Siro. When he arrived in Catalonia with a 3-1 lead, Mourinho’s work was done.

But on Monday, if any accusation can be levelled at the Portuguese, it is that he was too expansive. An Inter-type approach may have been a wiser ruse again. Mourinho, though, was right when he pointed out after the match that Barça is a finished article, while Real is a work in progress. Even with such a merciless board in charge of the club, it is inconceivable that the Portuguese will not be in the hot seat next season, even if he fails to bring silverware to the capital at his first attempt. He has time to build his own team, and there will be more occasions to test his tactics against Guardiola. In the meantime, he can take comfort from the words of Michael Laudrup, manager of Mallorca, which managed a draw at Camp Nou before the champions had settled into their winning groove:

“It is easy to beat Barcelona, everybody knows how. But doing it on paper and doing it on the field are two different things.”

It is early yet for the fat lady to be singing Barça’s club hymn to signal the death of a season, but the Camp Nou match has served to remind Mourinho of the task he faces to make Real Madrid Spain’s dominant force again.

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Published: Dec 1 2010
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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