Heading into today’s match at the Camp Nou, Barcelona need only draw or lose by the narrowest of margins to advance to the next round of the Copa del Rey. And while the Spanish Cup is the least valued of Barça’s three major competitions, this match—and the scoreline—is far more important than it appears on paper. With eternal rivals and league leaders Real Madrid in the house, Barcelona needs to do more than just secure the elimination. They need to dominate, obliterate, and humiliate Real Madrid.
One can safely assume that Barcelona will eliminate Real Madrid from the Copa del Rey today. With a 1-2 victory in the Bernabeu last week, any victory, draw, or even a 0-1 loss will see Barça through to the next round. With imperious form so far at the Camp Nou this season, one would have to be crazy not to bet on the home side.
Barcelona and its community, however, care far more about La Liga than they do about La Copa. In the league championship, Real Madrid currently holds a five-point advantage, and continues to steamroll clubs not named Barcelona. With less than half of La Liga remaining, Barcelona need Real Madrid to drop some points in a hurry. Mourinho’s men don’t currently appear disposed to do so. Their sheer wealth of talent and physicality on the pitch continues to overwhelm La Liga sides that can’t keep the ball away from them, and up until recently, all accounts point to the locker room being united in support of their eccentric manager.
After last week’s crushing defeat at the Bernabeu, however, things didn’t seem so rosy around Madrid. Pepe’s stomp on Leo Messi’s hand caused an uproar amongst Madridistas, who are tiring of the Portuguese’s dirty play. Mourinho’s ultra-defensive tactics didn’t win him any support either, as Barcelona succeeded in turning a one-goal deficit into a victory. One player reportedly decried his manager’s approach: "We can’t score one goal and then sit back and defend in our own field.. we are Madrid!"
Indeed it seems this indignant merengue is not the only player who has begun to question Mourinho’s decisions. Marca reported an extremely tense post-clásico training session that saw direct verbal confrontation between Sergio Ramos and Jose Mourinho. Amongst the hot topics were Mourinho’s complaint that his players leave him without support against the press, his claim that his Spanish players get special treatment from the press, and his blaming of Sergio Ramos for Puyol’s header goal.
Yesterday, Mourinho was unusually moody and curt in his press conference, denying the rumor that clans are developing in the Madrid camp (one clan, supposedly, is made up of Spanish internationals Xabi, Iker, Arbeloa, and Ramos; the other of Portuguese stars Ronaldo, Pepe, Carvalho, and Coentrao).
All together we have a situation that seems unstable, at best. All of the ingredients for implosion are present: a fractured locker room, a controversial (read: childish, egomaniacal, and emotionally fragile) manager, and plenty of negative press. The catalyst for a complete implosion? The one thing that can set this whole club on fire? Another ugly, humiliating defeat at the hands of Barcelona.
If FC Barcelona is to have any chance at pulling back La Liga, they must give Real Madrid a spanking today. 2-1 is not enough. 3-0 is okay, and 4-0 better, but something along the lines of 5-0 is what really is needed. Right now Barcelona is the superior team, and by a significant margin. Silly calls and little mistakes have left them five points off the lead. Today they can do a whole lot more than prove their superiority: Barcelona can make Madrid self-destruct.