With La Liga all but lost to rival Barcelona, Real Madrid are completely focused on trying to win the Champions League. The only problem now is whether the pressure creates a diamond or crushes Los Blancos.
Entering the 2012/13 season there was no question that the goal of winning a record 10th European club championship was high on Real Madrid's
list of things to accomplish. If Jose Mourinho were to pull out his smart phone (assuming he has one) and load up his favorite task application (also assuming he has one), I'm pretty certain you'd see "Win Champions League" or something similar there. It might be in Portuguese but that doesn't matter.
Mourinho wants his third Champions League title with a third club. Real Madrid wants to be the first team to reach double digit European cups. These facts are nothing new, we know it's the case, but other circumstances surrounding Real Madrid's season have amped up the pressure concerning the Champions League.
When the season kicked off, everyone associated with Madrid, fans and staff alike, wanted to win the Champions League. Now they basically have to win it because they won't be winning the league and there's a really good chance they won't be winning the Copa del Rey either.
It's not like Mourinho and his players haven't dealt with the crushing weight of expectation before but this seems different. Imagine that Madrid are Atlas trying to hold up the world while standing on an old concrete foundation in the questionable Texas soil (trust me, it makes sense). The ground underneath Madrid is shifting, all the positives from last season's league triumph are just a distant memory as the rumored in-fighting and political strife within the club has the situation at the Bernabéu ready to spiral out of control.
In truth, Real Madrid are 180 minutes from catastrophe. Red Alert klaxons, "Danger Will Robinson!", the whole nine yards. What's worse is that Madrid really only have themselves to blame for their current predicament.
The pressure begins.
In early January, Jose Mourinho all but conceded the league to Barcelona
and said his team's focus would be on winning both the cup competitions they were still involved in. At the time it could have been another one of the Special One's attempts to mess with a rivals mind, but his own team's continued slip-ups in the league have put Mourinho in the position of having to actually believe what he said. Chances are he already did, he's not stupid, but at that moment the message was clear from Madrid's leader, we must win the Champions League.
It's not just Mourinho who's trumpeting the company line. In a recently published interview with The Sun, Ronaldo made it clear that winning the Champions League was the goal for Madrid.
The pressure builds.
A failure to complete that goal could cause a bit of a domino effect to occur at Real Madrid.
Florentino Pérez's second run as club president is dangerously close to imitating his first, minus the European success. The return of his Galáticos policy has seen Madrid spend truckloads of money on some of the biggest stars in the game. This time however, the success hasn't come. Sure Madrid won the league last year but their 10th European Cup has remained elusive and once again there are rumblings of internal strife, similar to what happened surrounding the dismissal of Vicente del Bosque in 2003.
No Champions League win for Madrid could mean another exit for Pérez and will almost certainly lead to Jose Mourinho's
exit. Some around Madrid might not feel that's a bad thing but there's something to be said about the correlation between stability and the success of a football club.
Meanwhile amongst the Madrid fans there are nerves, angst and disappointment with the current state of affairs around the club. There's been loud voices questioning Mourinho's decisions, calls for him to go, nearly unthinkable behavior considering how high everyone was after last season's toppling of Barcelona. A Champions League triumph would likely silence those voices.
The pressure increases.
Real Madrid now are a teapot on a hot stove starting to whistle. Things are at a boil for Mourinho and his team, especially with their Round of 16 opponent being Manchester United. On top of all the pressure I've already mentioned, Madrid are facing a team that have a real chance of beating them. Not that any team at this point in the Champions League is a pushover but there's huge difference between playing United and playing, lets say, Celtic.
Science tells us that diamonds are formed when carbon-bearing material are exposed to a specific pressure and temperature range. They're rare because there's only two places on the planet where the necessary specifications are met.
Today we find out if the pressure is right for Real Madrid to produce a diamond-like performance or a figurative lump of coal.