Mourinho seeks first victory in heat of the Nou Camp cauldron
Real coach in for hostile reception at former club in tonight's much-anticipated El Clasico
Monday 29 November 2010
Some Barcelona fans started a campaign last week proposing Jose Mourinho be given the silent treatment tonight at the Nou Camp. Knowing that nothing would upset him more than to be completely ignored when he went for his pre-clasico stroll on the pitch the supporters set up their own online initiative called "100,000 silences for Mourinho" ... just 85 people signed up.
The other 99,915 said: "Nice idea, but if it's all the same we'd rather scream our lungs out as soon as he takes to the field."
The last time Barça's public enemy No 1 was at the Nou Camp, celebrating Internazionale's qualification for the Champions League final last season, he was given an impromptu shower by the pitch sprinklers and almost wrestled to the ground by Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes. No-one at Barcelona was able to stomach his post-match celebrations.
Last night Mourinho and his players were greeted by over a 1500 Madrid exiles at Barcelona's El Prat Airport but inside the stadium there will be only a handful of visiting fans and home supporters have promised him a welcome to match the one Luis Figo was given in 2002. Although having defected to the Casa Blanca in less treacherous circumstances, more moderate Barça fans are suggesting he is not worthy of another pig's head.
They also point out that, despite giving his former club a torrid time in Europe, Mourinho has never actually won a match at the Nou Camp. Inter went through there last season but the game finished 1-0 to Barcelona.
This is different. This is a Clasico and Mourinho's rival, Pep Guardiola – the man he was brought in to dethrone – is on one hell of a roll. Aside from having won eight of the 10 competitions he has contested since taking over as Barcelona first-team coach 18 months ago, Guardiola has won four straight Clasicos.
His first confrontation with Real Madrid ended in a 2-0 home win in 2008 and later that season his side inflicted a humiliating 6-2 thumping at the Bernabeu.
Last season, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal gave Barcelona victory in the first game at home and in the return fixture Barça again ran out 2-0 winners in Madrid. The striking thing about the record is that the victories have been more easily won away from home.
"It is true that it has been more difficult at home than at the Bernabeu. Anxiety is a bad thing," defender Carles Puyol said. Those added nerves at home will be something Mourinho will be looking to make the most of.
Real are a point clear of Barcelona in La Liga after 12 games and a draw would in no way be a bad result, although Real captain Iker Casillas has made it clear that will not be the game plan. "We don't want to talk about a draw because we believe we can go there and get the victory," he said.
That confidence comes from not having tasted defeat in any competition so far this season and Casillas, who has let in only six goals, will, along with each of his team-mates, receive a piece of paper with one final Clasico thought on it ahead of tonight's game.
It is a Mourinho tactic that was used to great effect in the Madrid derby that Real won 2-0 earlier this month. The inspiration he passes to his talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, will perhaps touch on how La Liga's top scorer came to finally get the better of Barça defenders Gerard Pique and Puyol in Portugal's 4-0 win over Spain recently. Ronaldo has never scored against Pique and Puyol in five La Liga games but he terrorised them during the friendly in Lisbon.
Guardiola has, in the past, preferred inspirational film clips before big matches. He famously had his players watch a montage of the best moments from Gladiator before the Champions League final win over Manchester United in 2009. However, such has been the hype around this fixture that both coaches have tried to play down its importance.
"It is as if the world will end after the game", Guardiola said recently and Mourinho has called the match "just another game" with his players repeating the phrase as if it were a mantra.
But the brutal domination of Barcelona and Real over the rest of the league – the pair finished respectively 28 and 25 points clear of third place last season – means this is anything but just another fixture. The two matches between Guardiola and Mourinho's sides will decide the title.
Both coaches are unlikely to make changes to their now familiar first XIs. The Real coach has been tempted to introduce Lassana Diarra to toughen up his midfield, but will ultimately stay with just Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira behind Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain.
Guardiola has also flirted with the idea of bolstering his engine room by recalling Seydou Keita but the problem of who to leave out will mean he continues with five of Spain's World Cup-winning squad: Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro and David Villa, joined by Lionel Messi, in attack.Just as Ronaldo has never scored against Pique and Puyol, so Messi has never hit the back of the net against Mourinho. But he has never been in better form to break that duck, scoring 67 goals in his past 67 matches.
The Argentine striker has hit seven goals in eight Clasicos and will come up against a former Chelsea foe, Ricardo Carvalho, the player described by Real Madrid's sporting director Jorge Valdano last week as "still having the body of a teenager". Valdano admitted being surprised that the Portuguese defender's wise head still sits atop a fully-fit footballer's body and the 32-year-old has been outstanding this season. His duel with Messi, like Pique's with Ronaldo, will be crucial but it is the dugout face-off that fascinates more than any other.
Yesterday, Guardiola and Mourinho were playing press conference chess, both clubs cagily trying to schedule their final media appearances after the other. Guardiola came out on top with an 8pm showing. Mourinho will content himself with making sure his team has the last word tonight.
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