Jose Mourinho’s angry criticism of referee Perez Laza following the latter’s decision not to award the Portuguese’s team at least one of two penalties in last weekend’s 1-1 away draw at lowly Almeria has dominated the back pages of the capital-based press.
Madrid’s failure to muster more than a point in South-Eastern Spain means the Whites now face the unenviable task of clawing back a four-point deficit from leaders Barcelona who, incidentally, marked La Liga’s halfway point in the season with a routine home victory over Racing Santander on Saturday.
The pressure on Madrid shoulders to play catch-up and record yet another win on home soil was evident in the Bernabeu side’s clunky passing and timid expression on the ball.
In a January transfer window in which the club’s hierarchy declined Mourinho’s plea for a new striker (following Gonzalo Higuain’s season ending back injury) Madrid looked bereft of attacking intent. Cristiano Ronaldo, for all his Pichichi-leading exploits this season, cut a lonesome figure as Brazilian counterpart Kaka, Argentine central midfielder Fernando Gago and Esteban Granero did little as a creative force to assist Spain’s leading marksman.
The look of unrest among Madrid’s supporters was clear to see throughout much of the fixture against the island opponents despite their side notching up 10 victories out of 10 on home soil.
However, seven days of undignified turmoil resulting in several Mourinho media outbursts and a boardroom row, coupled with the thought of having to close a seven point gap on their Catalan rivals before the game began, seemed to dent Los Blancos spirits.
While Madrid once again swept aside near neighbours Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey midweek, it was Mourinho’s pursuit of the La Liga title that seemed decidedly shaky until Benzema took a giant step outside of the shadows on Sunday night. The ex-Lyon ace, who cost as much as £30m two years ago, scored arguably his most important goal in a Whites jersey to date with an accurate, if not stinging left hand drive that managed to work its way through the outstretched fingertips of Mallorca’s keeper, Dudo Aouate.
Just what that goal may do to Benzema’s confidence is unknown, but if ever there was a boost to a player embroiled in a long list of questions, doubters and off the pitch problems, then this was it.
Iker Casillas’ last minute save from Webo made sure Madrid hung on for three pivotal points, in a performance which did underscore Mourinho’s stamp of resilience on his team, if little else.
The Portuguese has worked his managerial magic successfully since his move to Spain, but he will need a lot more up his sleeve if he is to don a La Liga winners medal come June.