The under-fire Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo may not be enjoying his best period of form but he is still "working like an animal" for the team, his coach, Jose Mourinho, said yesterday ahead of tonight's King's Cup tie with Barcelona.
Ronaldo has been whistled by some home supporters at Real's Bernabeu stadium since a poor performance in last month's La Liga clasico against Barcelona. The former Manchester United player reacted by refusing to celebrate his goal in a 5-1 win against Granada and makes his first appearance in front of Real fans since then in the cup quarter-final first leg.
Mourinho insisted that Ronaldo's performance in Saturday's 2-1 win at Real Mallorca had been his best of the campaign, even though he did not add to his 21 league goals.
"He worked like an animal and did exactly what the team needed," Mourinho said. "He doesn't need to score or be man of the match every time. I told him nobody can touch him after the way he worked in the second half. When the team wins everyone is responsible and when they lose everyone is responsible for that too. Simple."
Mourinho has managed only one win over Barcelona in eight attempts since taking the Real Madrid job at the end of the 2009-10 season, when Ronaldo nodded an extra-time winner in a 1-0 triumph in last season's King's Cup final.
The last time the two teams played each other over two legs in the Spanish Cup, in the 1996-97 campaign, the former Internazionale and Chelsea manager was assistant coach at Barcelona and the Catalan club went through 4-3 on aggregate.
Mourinho refused to give any details about his tactics for tonight's game, saying that whatever he decided would no doubt be criticised in the Spanish media.
Angel Di Maria, who has not played since injuring himself in the final training session of 2011, will be included in the squad and a decision will be made on his fitness today.
"The [Spanish] league is the priority," Mourinho added. "But tomorrow is also a great match and you want to do the best possible and use all the players if they are available."