The time has come for Mourinho to show his attacking credentials

by Charlie Coffey

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Two famous quotes spring to mind when looking forward to the fourth instalment of what has quickly become an infamous series of Clasico matches.

I fully expect Barcelona to see Real Madrid off after beating them 2-0 at the Bernabeu, as I imagine many neutral observers do. There are two approaches Jose Mourinho can take a match that, judging by his risky monologue last week, he already sees as destined to end in Catalan joy.

“Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you” (Henry Kissinger)

Firstly, he can continue with his spoiling tactics; aim to target live wires such as Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano with provocation and play-acting, get a Barca man sent off as he perceives happened to Pepe last week to gain the numerical advantage he needs to reverse the 2-0 score-line in Camp Nou. If his paranoid rant suggesting that UEFA, tonight’s referee Frank De Bleeckere and the alignment of the planets are all working in Barcelona’s favour works then the Belgian official may see in his favour should Barca rise to the bait.

This tactic has already worked to an extent. Alberto Undiano Mallenco, the referee for the Copa del Rey final in which Real triumphed over their sworn enemies for the first time in seven matches, was seemingly influenced by Mourinho in his leniency towards Madrid’s players. The game was refereed in a Premier League manner rather than that which we are accustomed to in Primera Division. In last week’s Champions League game Pepe was sent off for a studs-up tackle on Alves of which an absolute doppelganger was seen in the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at the weekend yet was deemed worthy of a yellow card.

Judgement varies from referee to referee, occasion to occasion. It can clearly be influenced by player appeals, crowd reaction and managers. Mourinho, love him or hate him, is nothing if not manipulative. He is willing to damage his own image it benefits his team, as we saw with his embarrassing, paranoid rant. If he cannot see his side beating Barcelona with football he can stick to his dirty little tricks and mind games.

If he takes this tact and fails as he did last week, Real Madrid and the wider football world (myself included) will tire of a man for which they used to have so much respect. He will have ruined the most anticipated Champions League semi-final of recent years. He will show the Real Madrid board that despite the money they have given him to spend and the uncharacteristic amount of faith and responsibility they have handed to him, he does not believe he is capable of beating Barcelona in a football match.

He will prove Johan Cruyff and Alfredo Di Stefano, the two greatest players to play in Clasico matches for Barcelona and Real Madrid right: Cruyff said Mourinho is not a football coach; Di Stefano that he was betraying the traditions of Real Madrid. If Mourinho follows in the words of Kissinger and fails, what was left of his honour will merely dissipate into the air of a jubilant Camp Nou.

“It is better to have tried and failed than to have failed to try” (Mike Dennison)

Barcelona’s success owes much to a fear factor. It owes more to tici-taca, overlapping full-backs and Lionel Messi, but fear is a factor that can be overcome before a whistle has been blown. Mourinho’s sole victory over Barcelona with Madrid, and with Inter last season, used that fear to his teams’ advantage. They defended deep, respected Messi with man-marking and hit Barca on the break when the opportunity arose. This may work for a narrow victory such as the 1-0 achieved only after 103 minutes of backs to the wall defending in the Copa Del Rey final as I wrote at the time, but Mourinho’s Real Madrid now need to hit at least two away goals without reply in 90 minutes. They need to score three to win the game in open play.

Playing with seven defensive players as Madrid did in the Mestalla two weeks ago will not produce three goals. Pepe, the key man in that system with the unenviable role of shadowing the world’s best player, is suspended and Sami Khedira, who covered so much ground as usual in that match, is injured. Mourinho of course needs to defend well, but his usual pragmatism will not suffice this time. Madrid need to take the game to Barca if they are to succeed.

Mourinho had Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Emmanuel Adebayor, three star international strikers, at his disposal in the first leg at the Bernabeu but chose to field Cristiano Ronaldo as a lone striker. If Mourinho is to either win the match or regain the respect of his detractors he needs to play at least one of these strikers. His trusty 4-2-3-1 is perfect for counter-attacking football, but to score three goals Real need to be the team attacking in the first place.

The famous 5-0 trouncing of Real Madrid by Barcelona back in November hurt Mourinho, and it will play on his mind as he prepares for his first match at the Nou Camp since like a recurring nightmare. However, this tie can only be rescued, and the ghost of that dark night can only be exorcised by a tactical masterstroke that beats Barcelona at their own game, in their own back yard. If anyone have the players to do so, it is Real Madrid. The time has come for the sulky one to become the Special One once again.

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  • Jay

    Until Pepe was wrongly dismissed Joses tactics were right on the money and he and Madrid were growing into the game.

    It’s easy with hindsight to say his tactics were wrong, but it’s much easier to look at what happens to teams who try to play Barca at their own game. Invariably they get tonked.

    Barca resorted to theatrics and play acting when their normal game was yielding no results. It’s no coincidence that Messi found space between Real Madrid’s back four and midfield as soon as Pepe was removed. He had been kept relatively quiet until that point.

    People criticising Jose for his tactics are the same who were patting him on the back in the past for the same tactics. It’s pathetic.

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