Manchester City have granted Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid permission to use their Etihad Stadium as a base as he plots the downfall of their neighbours Manchester United in next week’s Champions League last-16 second leg.
Real confirmed yesterday that Mourinho and his players will leave Spain on Sunday as they begin their final preparations for Tuesday’s game. It had been understood Real would train in Madrid but they will now hold their final session at City’s home.
The Real coach usually does not like his team to train at the stadium of the game. In 2010 when his Internazionale side met Bayern Munich in the final held in Madrid he made sure his team trained at Real’s Valdebebas training ground and not at the Bernabeu.
That explains the decision not to use Old Trafford but not the change of training and travelling plans. Madrid’s Barajas Airport has been affected by industrial action since the start of the year but Mourinho’s change of heart seems to have as much to do with mind games as with airport strikes.
He feels the extra hours away from any clasico inquests – Real play Barcelona today in La Liga – and spent instead ensconced in a friendly quarter of enemy territory will only aid the concentration of his players as they play their biggest game of the season so far.
With former Barcelona directors Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano now in charge at City and their preference for United to stay in the competition in the hope it helps derail them in the league, it might have made for a difficult decision. But Real have been helped out by the club they knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages.
Mourinho will have his mind very much on Tuesday’s game when he names his team to face Barcelona. He could rest up to nine of the players likely to start against United. Brazilian midfielder Kaka will come into midfield, with Mesut Ozil definitely missing the game.
When asked if Mourinho would be tempted to field a strong side despite the proximity of the United game so as to inflict more suffering on Barcelona after knocking them out of the Copa del Rey in midweek, Kaka said: “We are not worried about leaving Barça in crisis; we are only concerned with winning.”