With half a season still to go in the Spanish league, Real Madrid may well be counting on coach Jose Mourinho's hostile personality to give it the push it needs to overcome leader Barcelona.
Mourinho has alienated just about everyone in Spanish football, just as he did in Italy with Inter Milan and in England with Chelsea. But he won league titles in those countries, and now he will have to lead Madrid through a near-perfect stretch to overturn Barcelona's four-point lead.
Mourinho and Madrid, coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw with Almeria, will get their chance to close the gap on Sunday against Mallorca.
Barcelona, however, has won 13 straight going into Saturday's game against Racing Santander and is on course to set a new league points record. Two more wins would also see it match its best ever league winning streak of 15 straight after seeing a club record 28-game unbeaten run snapped Wednesday in a 3-1 cup loss to Real Betis.
While it's been mostly easy for Barcelona, things haven't been so for Mourinho during his first six months in the Spanish capital.
Director general Jorge Valdano criticized Mourinho for leaving Karim Benzema on the bench to start the match against Almeria after having said the Spanish club was only looking to land a striker on-loan to finish out the season with Gonzalo Higuain injured.
"I already talked about a (striker) in the preseason. And I talked about a (striker) when we knew Higuain wouldn't recover in time. In the last few days, who's talking about a (striker)? Not me," Mourinho said. "I'm too old for receiving messages through the press. I make the team, the decisions are mine."
Thursday's edition of AS newspaper implied Mourinho would look to break his four-year deal and leave Madrid at the end of the season as everyone bears down on the volatile figure. Even the referee's committee has asked that Mourinho be sanctioned for criticism leveled after the Almeria draw. Mourinho already served a one-game European ban for deliberately instructing players to get red cards, and he also was suspended for two domestic games for protesting.
Mourinho escaped punishment after celebrating a goal in front of an opponent's bench at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium earlier this year.
"I don't doubt the honesty of the referees, but some things are fairly obvious," Mourinho said about disputed penalties that were not called against Almeria. "We already talked about this a couple of months ago — there's a rule for me and a rule for the rest. I don't expect that to change."
Even the Spanish football federation made a critical remark about Mourinho's treatment of the referees and it had to quickly retract the line from its Copa del Rey preview after drawing the ire of Madrid. The federation blamed the release on an intern.
Mourinho's news conferences have often ascended into tense exchanges with journalists, while opposing fans have gone as far as to chant "Die Mourinho, die!"
Still, Madrid captain Iker Casillas believes Mourinho is unaffected by all the distractions.
"His intention is to stay on and the intention of the club is that he stays for a long time," Casillas said. "We've got a young team and he knows it can bear fruit over the long-term. He loves the city and the club."
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi continue their chase of Hugo Sanchez's record 38 goals in a season with Ronaldo at 22 after 19 games and Messi on 18.
Barcelona remains without the injured Daniel Alves, while captain Carles Puyol should return to anchor the defense after a shaky performance against Betis. Injury-prone forward Jeffren Suarez injured a leg in training Thursday and will be sidelined for five weeks, the Catalan club said.
Barcelona leads the league with 52 points, four more than Madrid with 48. Villarreal is third with 39 points, followed by Valencia with 37 and Espanyol with 34.Reuse content