Madrid faces Barcelona psych test
This time last week Jose Mourinho said that the Spanish Supercopa was not a big priority. But after a turbulent week, the Real Madrid coach and his side now need a win in Wednesday’s decider against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabéu to get the season back on track.
Madrid’s opening three games of the season have brought two defeats – including a loss against rival Barcelona at Camp Nou last week - and a draw. Their Portuguese coach was stinging in his criticism of his players after the 1-2 loss at Getafe in La Liga on Sunday, saying they had “deserved to lose” and their attitude had been “bad.”
While most Madrid fans were focused on the Bernabéu on Monday for the unveiling of new $44 million signing Luka Modric, the ‘Only One’ had called his players to a private meeting at the club’s Valdebebas training facility near Madrid’s Barajas airport.
“I spoke with them but I am not going to say now what we talked about,” said Mourinho on Tuesday. “I said what I had to say and nothing more. My only problem was the difference in behavior from the first two games. My priority now is to know if the attitude we had against Getafe was temporary or a particular psychological issue that my players have. That is all I was interested in.”
The former Chelsea and Inter boss did not say what conclusions he had drawn from the discussion, but claimed that if they showed the same mentality in Wednesday night’s Clásico as they did at the Camp Nou in last Thursday’s first leg, he would have no complaints.
Madrid took the lead in that game through a Cristiano Ronaldo header, were then rocked as Barcelona scored three quick goals through Pedro Rodríguez, Lionel Messi (penalty) and Xavi Hernández, but kept their composure and reduced the deficit when substitute Ángel di María pounced on a mistake by Barcelona goalkeeper Víctor Valdés.
“In the Supercopa first leg, we played well against a difficult opponent,” said Mourinho. “We lost 2-3, a result which leaves the tie open. That was acceptable. We do not need to do anything different than we did at the Camp Nou.
“We have all seen the same game and how they got back from 0-1 to 1-1 in just one minute was important. We played a good game and we will try and play another good game.”
Madrid’s surprising defeat at Getafe would likely have received even more attention in the Spanish capital had it not been followed hours later by the announcement that the summer-long pursuit of Luka Modric was over, agreeing to take the midfielder from Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.
The Croatian, 26, completed his medical examination and signed a five year contract on Monday lunchtime, and has been included in Madrid’s squad for the Supercopa second leg.
Although some changes are possible with Mourinho looking to shake his players into life, it looks unlikely Modric will go straight into the starting lineup. Mourinho did confirm that regular central defender Pepe, who missed the first-leg and the Getafe match with a head injury, was now fine to return.
"(Modric) has only played some minutes in a friendly for Croatia,” said Mourinho. “He will soon be ready, but he has trained little. Pepe trained yesterday without any problems. He saw the birth of his daughter and is feeling better than ever.”
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova approaches the game knowing his team only needs a draw to take the trophy knowing very well that Barca has not lost at the Bernabéu in its last seven visits. Vilanova quickly pointed out to journalists at his pre-match briefing that previous games would have no effect on Wednesday's result.
“The past is not important,” said Vilanova. “There is no clear favorite, and a clear favorite often loses in these games. It is not easy to win there, not at all. Madrid always start quickly and look to score an early goal. The tie is very open, we know that to win the Supercopa, we will need to score there.”
Vilanova said that, in his opinion, Madrid's defeat against Getafe was not good news for his own side.
“Not having won in three games makes Madrid dangerous,” he said. “It is always like that playing in its own stadium, and with its squad, but this situation makes them even more dangerous, because they will be even more motivated to win.”
Vilanova has his own selection decisions to make. His side also played badly last weekend, going 1-0 down at Osasuna, and then relying on Messi to score twice to get it out of trouble. Former Arsenal player Cesc Fábregas again disappointed in midfield, while new left back Jordi Alba was at fault for the Pamplona-based side’s goal but provided the assist for Messi's late winner.
Carlos Puyol had seemed a definite absentee after his cheekbone was fractured in an aerial challenge with Osasuna’s Roland Lamah, yet the club captain has had a protective mask fitted, trained with his teammates Tuesday afternoon. However, it is likely the defender will be named to the bench, with Javier Mascherano and Gerard Piqué forming Barca's central defensive partnership.
Piqué, who said Monday he felt he was playing well after a difficult time last season, claimed Barca’s players would not be extra-motivated by the chance to lift a trophy on its main rival’s home patch.
“The most important thing is the trophy, not where we win it,” Piqué said. “To lift the Supercopa at the Bernabéu is an anecdote. It will not be the first time or the last time we do it. We are thinking about ourselves and in winning a fourth consecutive Supercopa.”