So José Mourinho is special, not only moving Real Madrid over their Round of 16 hurdle but convincingly seeing Los Merengues past Lyon and into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. Now comes the truly difficult part. Whereas it was fairly ridiculous that Real Madrid failed to advance to the quarters for six straight years (despite being favored at the Round of 16 every single year), the quarterfinals is where some of the continents big clubs can't help be collide. That's why Manchester United and Arsenal went out at this point last year and United or Chelsea will go out this time.
One of Real Madrid or Tottenham Hotspur will also be out, though nobody would call Spurs one of UEFA's biggest clubs. Yet few would deny that Harry Redknapp's team is one of the continent's most talented teams, and with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon providing the wide threat that could make Real's 4-2-3-1 into more 4-5-1 than 4-3-3, it's not difficult to see how a first time Champions League participant could take down Europe's most successful club. After all, how comfortable should José Mourinho be with Sergio Ramos and Marcelo asked to lock-down Spurs' wingers, with Ángel Di María and Cristiano Ronaldo providing support?
But Bale and Lennon won't be the most intriguing of Spurs' attackers when it comes to a match with Real Madrid. Rafael van der Vaart - sold by Madrid to Spurs in early fall - had openly said he would relish a chance to face his former team. Ask and ye shall receive. The Dutch playmaker was an early darling at Spurs, his ability to tap in Peter Crouch knockdowns at the edge of the six making him the fans' favorite import since David Ginola.
As those opportunities have faded and injuries have set in, van der Vaart has seemed more van der Vaart-ian, though that takes little away from the story of his Bernabeu return. He didn't want to leave, felt has was never given a chance after moving from Hamburg, and having become an important part of a side that could put Los Merengues out, the half-Spanish attacker would relish giving Jorge Valdano a reason to regret.
But while van der Vaart, Bale and Lennon are of obvious quality, there are still places within Spurs' XI that make you wonder if they're venturing beyond their depth. Can a Champions League contender feel secure with Gomes in net? Are Alan Hutton and Benoit Assou-Ekkoto better equipped to contend with Ronaldo and Di María than Real's fullbacks are to deal with their opposition? Can a team relying on Sandro or Wilson Palacios to anchor their midfield hope for something more than chance?
There is a reason why Spurs are fifth in England, and although they have had more success in Champions League, the reason why Tottenham stumbles behind Manchester United in league is also evident in their match-up with Madrid They don't have the same stable of horses. José Mourinho has Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso at the base of their midfield. Madrid's fullbacks are suspect, but Harry Redknapp would be right to envy a squad that has Ramos and Marcelo. Match-up Ronaldo and Di María with Bale and Lennon and few would be called crazy for picking the former pair. And that doesn't even cover the virtues or Iker Casillas, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Mesut Özil.
Real Madrid are rightfully favorites, but within their team you see the cracks that could allow Spurs to go through. Still, Tottenham are upstarts, and starting on April 5, their Champions League gets real.
How They Got Here
Tottenham embraced their first Champions League by winning the tournament's deepest group, finishing above holders (and fellow quarterfinalists) Inter Milan. Redknapp's charge put-up 18 goals along the way, tied (with Arsenal) for the highest total in group play.
In the knockout round, Spurs changed their tact in eliminating Milan. The first leg saw Tottenham get a late goal to take a commanding 1-0 lead back to White Hart Lane. One scoreless draw later, Spurs were moving beyond the seven-time champions.
Real Madrid's 16 points in group was the highest total in the tournament, Los Blancos allowing only two goals to a packet that included Milan and Ajax. In the knockout stage, Madrid snapped a seven-year slump by eliminating Lyon, their 4-1 victory achieving redemption against the club that saw them out of the last tournament.
José Mourinho has tried to play-down people's desires to celebrate the Lyon win. This is where Real Madrid is supposed to be, he's implied. There's no reason to celebrate, yet.
If Real Madrid defeats Tottenham Hotspur, the same attitude will apply. Though it wouldn't be a huge upset if Spurs reached the semifinals, Real Madrid should be expected to win. Even less cause for celebration: If Real wins, they likely confirm a meeting with Barcelona.
April 5: Real Madrid vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
April 13: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Real Madrid, White Hart Lane, London