Real's title hopes written off in Spain

January 31, 2011

The pressure is on Jose Mourinho to prove to the Spanish football world that he is indeed the "Special One."

Spanish media have already written off Real Madrid's title chances after a 1-0 loss at Osasuna left the club trailing two-time defending champion Barcelona by seven points in the standings.

"Seven Points - Too Much" sports daily AS splashed across its front page, while Marca said it was time to focus on the two other trophies still available in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

Barcelona-based daily El Mundo Deportivo was succinct: "League KO."


Mourinho, the self-anointed "Special One," was hired by Madrid to snap two-plus seasons without silverware. The Portuguese coach led Inter Milan to a treble last season but has come up against a Barcelona team that just equaled a league record with its 15th straight win.

Madrid went into Sunday's match against Osasuna at the Reyna Navarra Stadium stating it needed to win all of its remaining games to keep up the pressure on Barcelona. But even new signing Emmanuel Adebayor couldn't make that happen.

"It's our second league loss, and it leaves us in a much more difficult position in respect to the standings," said Mourinho, a former Barcelona assistant coach who is in his debut season with Madrid.

Barcelona is on course to set records in most domestic categories if it continues on its current run, which included a club record 28-game unbeaten run in all competitions until a loss to Real Betis in an already lopsided domestic cup series win.

"This year we can win the treble," Barcelona defender Eric Abidal said Monday, "but the journey will be very long and we'll have to work hard to the very end."

A victory against Atletico Madrid on Saturday would see Barcelona set a record of 16 straight league wins to topple Real Madrid's mark from 1960-61, which it tied with Saturday's 3-0 win at Hercules. The club's 10th straight road victory leaves it closing in on another record for consecutive away wins to start a season.

Barcelona is also poised to break season points total - it set the current total of 99 last season - victories, goals scored and fewest conceded. It has outscored opponents 67-11 with 17 games to play as it sets its sights on Madrid's record of 107 scored in 1989-90.

Barcelona's 5-0 win over Madrid earlier this season was Mourinho's most lopsided loss in a career that includes two Champions League titles and league titles in Portugal, England and Italy.

At this same juncture of last season under former coach Manuel Pellegrini, Madrid trailed Barcelona by five points.

"A league cannot be over at the halfway point for a club like Madrid," director general Jorge Valdano said. "The result is really tough, but not definitive."

Even if Mourinho is able to avenge that loss and snap a record five-game losing run against its biggest rival, Madrid now needs Barcelona to slip up to give it a chance. Barcelona has dropped only five points all season.

"There's still 17 games left to play," Madrid captain Iker Casillas said.

Barcelona could even stand in the way of the other two cups. Madrid and Barcelona are both poised to reach the Copa del Rey final, which would be played three days after its second "clasico" match of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on April 17.

In the Champions League, if Madrid gets past Lyon and Barcelona beats Arsenal, the pair could be drawn in the quarterfinals, possibly setting up an unprecedented four head-to-head matches in two weeks.