MALAGA, SPAIN - JANUARY 10: Head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid enters the pitch for the round of 16 Copa del Rey second leg match between Malaga and Real Madrid at La Rosaleda Stadium on January 10, 2012 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
After a 2-1 home loss in the Copa Del Rey quarterfinals, can Real Madrid come back at the Camp Nou to knock arch-rivals Barcelona off their perch?
Real Madrid may have triumphed in the Copa del Rey last year, but they're on the verge of being knocked out of the tournament this season. We're now on our seven hundreth Clasico of the past calendar year*, and things haven't gone so well for Jose Mourinho and company, with Pep Guardiola's team by and large getting the better of them in Europe and domestically. While Madrid hold a solid lead in La Liga, last week saw the Copa holders beaten 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu, and they're going to have to put in a spectacular performance at the Camp Nou to retain the only trophy they've won since 2008.
*Approximation to within three orders of magnitude.
The Special One was brought in from Inter Milan specifically to formulate a plan to beat the Blaugranes, and while it looked as though he had things worked out when became the only man to best Guardiola in a Champions League tie with the Serie A team, that narrative has been rather shattered since the beginning of last season. Since Mourinho took over as manager of Real Madrid, his record against Barcelona reads one win, two draws and four losses, with a goal differential of negative seven.
Now the natives are apparently getting restless. Not even Mourinho is immune to criticism, and winning a relatively minor trophy in the Copa del Rey last year only take one so far. Even if they win the league, it'll be because Barcelona dropped more points against lesser teams where Madrid did not - the Catalans have already demonstrated their superiority in head-to-head league play. Madrid need to beat Barcelona. At this point, it's become a club-defining obsession, like Chelsea with the Champions League or Arsenal with making sure Andrei Arshavin gets on the pitch.
So, while you would expect the two best teams in the world to take the second leg of the quarterfinals of a relatively minor domestic cup with a sense of humour, that's not going to happen here. Madrid will need an emphatic win at the Camp Nou to advance, and they're going to fight very hard to have that happen.
What can Mourinho do to stymie Barcelona? He's failed to hold onto leads twice this season at the Santiago Bernabeu while playing relatively defensive football, but opening things up and playing the the more skillful types against Barca is a good way to get slaughtered. In truth, not even a team as good as Madrid had much hope of getting a result at the Camp Nou. This tie's probably already lost, and now it falls to Mourinho to mitigate the PR hit that will come with his club's near-inevitable crashing out of the Copa del Rey.
That or we get some sort of miracle. That'd work too.
Real Madrid and Barcelona play the second leg of their Copa Del Rey quarterfinal tie on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 p.m. local time at the Camp Nou. You can catch the game on GolTV in both the United States and Canada.