MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 31: New Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho of Portugal holds a press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on May 31, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
It might be easy to blame Jose Mourinho for Real Madrid's failure in the Champions League, but the facts don't add up for me.
It was supposed to be a moment of destiny for Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid. The Special One had finally solved the Barcelona puzzle in the league and all that was left was booking a trip to the Champions League Final. But, as we learned Wednesday, destiny is fickle. So the question becomes, is Mourinho to blame for his team's failure to advance over Bayern Munich?
While asking the question is fairly simple, figuring out a reasonable answer if far more difficult. No doubt everyone who watched the match will have their own perspective or opinion about what happened. But, for me, things break down into one of two camps of thought.
The first line of thinking is to outright blame Mourinho for the failure (and as good as Munich is, make no mistake, this is a failure). One could make a case that Mou pulled "a Redknapp", believing that his superior talent and home-field advantage would lead his side to victory. Instead of making adjustments to properly deal with the issues he saw, at least we think he saw, in the first leg, Mourinho chose to believe that his side's skill would be enough.
The second line of thinking is that Mourinho's hands were tied by injuries. With Lassana Diara and Ricardo Carvalho out, he was forced to put Pepe in the central defense, rather than being able to move him to a DM role, or just play Diarra instead. Compared to the alternative of fielding Coentrao or Granero, how he lined up his team seems to me to be the right, and only really logical choice, thus, the result wasn't his fault.
What side of the fence you come down on largely depends on some combination of your tactical opinions and personal feelings about Mourinho. I think there's legitimate case to made for either point. But for my money, you simply cannot lay this at the feet of the Portuguese manager for a number of factors.
First there's the previously mentioned lineup issues, especially considering Pepe was guilty of an unnecessary penalty that allowed Bayern to get the crucial away goal and even up the tie. Does Carvahlo make the same decision that Pepe does in that spot? Who can say, but given Carvahlo's experience, you'd have to think he would have been more aware of the situation around him. Sergio Ramos and Pepe had Mario Gomez covered when Arjen Robben sent in the cross, there was no need to make contact on Gomez, yet Pepe crashed in to him and conceded the penalty.
The right play would have been to let Gomez go and see what happens, especially since there was a really good chance he never would have reached the cross. Of course, I have the benefit of replay and making a split-second decision is a whole different thing. Still, professional footballers are paid to make the decisions and Pepe made the wrong one.
Another major issue for Mourinho was the El Clasico match on Saturday. With Barcelona within five points going into Saturday, Madrid had to bring their "A" game and get a victory to essentially secure the La Liga title. Mourinho didn't have the luxury (if you can call having already lost the league title a luxury) that Jupp Heynckes had in being able to rest key players ahead of Wednesday's match. Madrid was playing their third match in a week with basically the same lineup and it showed. Ronaldo was completely gassed in extra time and there's every reason to believe his leg was bothering him and likely affected his PK attempt. More importantly was having to remove Mesut Özil, who left the match in favor of Kaka in the 75th minute.
With Özil out, Madrid lost their best playmaker and were subsequently unable to take advantage of their opportunities down the stretch, especially late in extra time when Madrid finally started controlling the game and possession. Kaka was simply unable to do what Özil is capable of and it hamstrung the Madrid attack late when there were cracks in the Bayern defense.
For comparisons sake, Bayern made one sub in 120 minutes of play, Thomas Müller for Franck Ribéry in the 95th minute. One can argue that Heynckes either simply didn't need to make a change or didn't trust his bench enough, but the bottom line for me is that his side was rested where as Madrid was not.
So can you blame Mourinho? Sure, but I just don't believe it's warranted. In hindsight, adjustments could have been made to better protect the early lead that Ronaldo gave Madrid, but it's not like Bayern defeated them with an onslaught of goals. The match broke on Pepe's decision and despite that, having him in the central defensive roll was still the logical and right decision considering the options.
As for the penalty kicks, there's no bigger crap shoot in the game. There's nothing any coach can do when his players are standing alone, 12 yards from goal. The fact that Iker Casillas did his job and stopped two Bayern penalties, only makes the loss even harder to take.
Mourinho is the easy target for blame but Madrid wasn't bad against Bayern. They did nearly everything right but as is common in big matches, the mistakes that do happen are magnified. So if you are hell bent on blaming the Special One, be my guest, but the facts simply don't add up for me. He set up his side the best he could, they got two quick goals, but ultimately were defeated by a strong opponent and were unable to overcome the compounded fatigue of a busy week of football.
That happens to every manager, even the best ones.