For Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, It is La Liga Title that Matters, Not Copa del Rey
Real Madrid suffered another home defeat to Barcelona but this time in the first-leg of the Copa del Rey. The cup loss has not been as painful as the La Liga loss to the bitter rivals from Catalonia. In both defeats the hosts took the lead early on only for the Catalans to strike back to achieve precious and morale boosting victories.
Last season, Mourinho’s team was able to lift the Copa del Rey at Barca’s expense yet all other competitions involving both sides have ended in favor of the Catalans who went on to win La Liga title and the Champions League. Those two latter titles are the ones which Mourinho wants to win and are the reason why he was hired in the first place.
Mourinho knows he cannot beat Barca by playing an attacking game so he keeps resorting to a defensive strategy with an emphasis on counter-attacks and an aggressive approach to intimidate Barca’s creative trio of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Those who value the Spanish Cup will argue that the Portuguese coach used his strongest lineup to face the Catalans but the reality is crystal clear for those who understand the intense rivalry between the two clubs and Mourinho’s personal grudge against Barca. Real, in particular the club’s management and Mourinho, cannot afford to be seen as giving away a match to Barcelona.
For Mourinho the focus remains on winning La Liga and this is a possible objective despite the home loss to the Catalans. Los Blancos have been more consistent than any other club in the Spanish league and deserve to be on top. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scoring the goals, Mourinho can rely on a decisive firepower to finish off opponents.
As for the Spanish Cup’s return-leg, Mourinho will attempt to win the clash at the Camp Nou because he needs to boost his own morale and that of his squad since he realizes Los Blancos cannot afford a crushing defeat to the bitter rivals. Another loss to Barca this week would damage the confidence of the players and increase doubts about Real’s ability to win La Liga following a period of dominance by the Catalans.
Mourinho realizes losing the return tie will create a psychological barrier for his players who will become increasingly lacking in confidence when it comes to their ability to win the remaining fixture against the Catalans at the Camp Nou on April 22nd. That league fixture will likely be decisive for the coronation of the eventual league champions.
In the meantime, and despite the criticism from supporters and various media outlets, Mourinho will stick to the unpopular defensive strategy against Barca while relying on Ronaldo and his attacking partners to sneak a winner from counter-attacks. The Copa del Rey might not be Mourinho’s ultimate objective but winning the return fixture, even by a scoreline of 1-0 which leads to exiting the cup, will be one of Mourinho’s main targets ahead of the much anticipated league dual in April.
Will Mourinho be able to halt Barca’s dominance or will Messi and his teammates continue to cause heartache for the shrewd Portuguese tactician?