He ordered the groundstaff to let the grass grow a few centimetres longer and not water the pitch before kick-off; he left his most talented player, Mesut Özil, on the bench; and he gave central defender Pepe a roaming search-and-destroy role in midfield. But Jose Mourinho could not deliver the Real Madrid victory that would upset Barcelona's progress towards a third successive La Liga title.
After the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu on Saturday attention now turns to Wednesday's Spanish Cup final and the two Champions League semi-finals that will decide which Spanish side reaches the final at Wembley next month. With Barça still eight points ahead of their big rivals in the table and just six league games left Real must win one of those battles to not finish the season without a trophy.
"Just once I would like to play them 11 against 11" said Mourinho after he watched one of his sides go down to 10 men against Barcelona for the fifth time in his career.
The Copa del Rey climax in Valencia threatens to be as testing for the referee as for both sides after Saturday's bruising battle. There were seven bookings and Raul Albiol joined Asier del Horno, Didier Drogba, Thiago Motta and Sergio Ramos as players who have not lasted 90 minutes for Mourinho against Barça. "I am tired of playing them with 10," he added. "My players know that in every team talk we have to discuss playing with one player less."
This time the complaint was not so much that Albiol did not deserve to be sent off in the 53rd minute for hauling down David Villa inside the penalty area but that when Dani Alves was adjudged to have fouled Marcelo for Real's penalty with eight minutes to go the referee did not show Alves what would have been his second yellow card. "The fourth official told me it was because he is a full-back not centre-back. What does that mean?" huffed Mourinho.
The two penalties gave Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo the opportunities to break important scoring ducks – it was Messi's first goal against a Mourinho side in his 10th encounter with the Portuguese coach and Ronaldo's first against Barcelona in his seventh game with them.
It was suggested by one Spanish newspaper in midweek that Messi is referred to as "the dwarf" in the Real Madrid dressing room such is the antipathy to his annoying domination of the goal-scoring and goal-assist tables in all competitions.
On Saturday the Argentine was subdued by Real's organised aggression for the most part of Saturday night's match but his penalty was his 49th goal in all competitions this season and it seemed he was going to be one step ahead of his main Madrid rival once again.
Ronaldo however, was just as lethal from the spot when his chance came, scoring his 41st goal of the campaign. The two men will almost certainly top 100 goals between them before the season ends. "Every team has the right to have the pitch the way they want it in their own stadium," said the Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola afterwards when asked if he thought the ball held up at times in the longer grass.
"I did not expect Madrid to be so defensive," added midfielder Xavi. "They closed up at the back and played a very direct football."
It was a very different Real Madrid to the side that faced Barcelona in the league last November. Mourinho will make the point that a more open approach saw his side thrashed 5-0 in the Nou Camp. A draw will feel like a step in the right direction even if the league is now gone – there are still two competitions to be won.
"Wednesday will be different," Mourinho said. "It's a one-off game. One team will go home with the cup and one team will go home with nothing."Reuse content