Club Focus - Real Madrid - Gijon defeat leaves Mourinho targetting Champions League glory
Back in September, Jose Mourinho had a yarn that Sporting Gijon Coach Manolo Preciado was helping Barcelona win the title. He was not wrong. Preciado’s plucky Sporting side inflicted Mourinho’s first league defeat on home soil in 150 games and with it delivered the final, fatal cut to Real’s hopes of taking La Liga away from Catalonia.
With Barcelona narrowly edging out Villarreal 1-0 at El Madrigal, Los Blancos trail Blaugrana by eight points meaning Barca will likely have to lose at least three of their remaining eight fixtures for Madrid to have any chance denying Pep Guardiola a hat-trick of league wins. Such an implosion seems unthinkable given that the champions have lost just twice in their last 68 league outings, leading for Mourinho to concede it will be ‘practically impossible’ for his side to reclaim top spot from here.
Prior to the game Madrid had boasted a formidable home record winning all fourteen times hosting and firing in 46 goals, but without Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Kaka and Xabi Alonso, los Merengues created little clear cut and what they did they wasted. A clinical breakaway finish from Manuel de la Cuevas did for them 10 minutes from time. Minus its Midas touches, Madrid’s attack could not fashion a reply. With it went Mourinho’s incomparable home record which deserves ultimate recognition. The biblical run across 150 matches in nine years, with four different teams, in four different countries whilst earning six league titles and eight other domestic trophies is one of the finest managerial feats of all time. The ever decreasing few who still disclaim Mourinho should take note and appreciate.
With league aspirations dim and distant, Mourinho will now use his repertoire to make the side an even bigger threat in Europe. Ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s visit on Tuesday there remain doubts about the fitness of a few key assets namely Ronaldo and Benzema. The relative ray of light from their current standing is that squads can now be specifically primed for continental deployment.
The league is now a fruitless pursuit so the full depth of the squad can be rationed out for the remainder of the season, including the potential Champions League semi with Barca. Perversely if Real do take their foot off the pedal they then hand Guardiola the chance to rest men his at his end, lending more intrigue to a potentially pistols drawn semi with no league agendas to distract.
European football is perhaps the immediate quick fix Real need to get over the Gijon loss and Mourinho was in positive vibe ahead of meeting Harry Redknapp’s side, saying: “Do I think Tottenham will beat Madrid? No. It is my opinion that we are the better team and I am confident we will progress over the two legs.” Whether Mourinho is so sure of progress over two legs against Barca is another question but one he will be likely answering soon enough. Mourinho also muttered in futility about mathematics but the simple calculation is one down, two to go, but only one will do.