The first of four mega-hyped hyped Clasico encounters between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid offered much of….the usual, one team tried to play football, the other one is managed by Jose Mourinho. Whoever thought that the “Special One” would alter his approach to the demands of the Santiago Bernabeu faithful was in for an unpleasant surprise.
As Real Madrid’s team sheet suggested, Jose Mourinho only had one thing in mind, and one thing only, not to lose against FC Barcelona. Mourinho deliberately left out Madrid’s most creative player, Mesut Özil, for the rather unconventional choice of Pepe in midfield. Although his tactics and philosophy don’t remotely resemble “beautiful football”, he ultimately got his desired result, his team avoided a defeat.
Perhaps the last Clasico still looms somewhere in Jose Mourinho’s memory; the 5-0 thrashing at the hands of FC Barcelona, the heaviest defeat in his successful career.
In a way Jose Mourinho remains the most devisive, and extreme, manager in world football today. There’s no grey area with him, you either adore him or loathe him. It also reflects in the way he approaches football. At times he sets up his (Real Madrid) team to play attacking football, like he did back in November at the Camp Nou. But if this approach fails there only seems to be one other logical option, to defend at all costs, like Real Madrid did tonight.
Nevertheless, he is a wildly successful manager who has won everywhere he went. It's hard to argue with someone that has won as many trophies as he did. He will probably never please the football purists but something tells me that he couldn't care less. But one has to remember that even though Fabio Capello guided Real Madrid to two La Liga titles, he was ousted as many times by the Merengue hierarchy for not promoting eye-candy football.
Sometimes results aren't everything, especially in Spain.
Personally speaking, I was rather surprised to see 11 Merengue, the world’s most expensive team ever assembled, defend for 70-plus minutes. After all, I assumed that Jose Mourinho wouldn’t even dare to enforce a camping workshop on the Santiago Bernabeu audience.
Heading into game with an eight-point deficit, Real Madrid had to go for a win if they wanted to keep their title-hopes alive. Tonight’s draw only helps FC Barcelona, if anyone at all. Had Jose Mourinho’s Madrid side gone for broke and lost the game, nobody would’ve blamed him/them for trying.
But Jose Mourinho is a too smart tactician to fall for that, hence one might feel that he has given up on the La Liga title and set his sights on the upcoming Copa del Rey final and the UEFA Champions League semi-final.
With the La Liga race all but dead, all eyes are firmly set on Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final. Fortunately for the audience, it’s a one-off game where the viewer is unlikely (although not impossible) to be compelled to endure 90 minutes of anti-football.
Who knows, maybe FC Barcelona will face a resurgent Real Madrid side that also wants to play football.
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