Two league draws this month saw Real's La Liga lead over Barca fall from ten points to just six, and with Mourinho losing his marbles and nervousness clearly affecting the team's performance last night in Cyprus, Madrid's season could be about to unravel.
It was all going nicely for Real this season as they attempted to overhaul Barcelona on the domestic front and break their European hoodoo in the Champions League. A ten point cushion by early March made the Spanish title look a formality, as Barca struggled to hold on to Madrid's coat-tails.
However, two successive 1-1 results against Malaga and Villareal have brought Barca back into the title race, with the team practically falling apart against the latter. Lassana Diarra was hauled off after less than half an hour, Mourinho sent to the stands and Mesut Ozil and Sergio Ramos both received their marching orders. A 5-1 victory over Sociedad followed, restoring some faith in 'Project Better Than Barca'.
Last nights 3-0 away win over APOEL was certainly not as routine as the scoreline suggested, with the visitors only breaking the deadlock in the 74th minute. Are Real about to bottle their big breakthrough season?
Mourinho is sporting a full grey head of hair, perhaps a telling sign of the fans bickering and boardroom meddling that has fed rumours of his return to England.
Mourinho's men struggled against the Cypriot minnows, and have lost the free flowing form that saw them romp clear in the league and sweep aside continental opposition. The first half was missed chance after missed chance for the Spanish leaders, highlighted when Karim Benzema inexplicably missed an open goal from yards out. The Frenchman may have won his managers trust, but finishing like that will not doing him any future favours. The second half saw more urgency from the away side, but they continued to fail in breaking down the stubborn hosts.
The fact Real didn't score until 15 minutes from time against such lowly opposition gives you an insight into the anxious nature of the group. Victory relied on the impact from bench, with Kaka and Marcelo brought on after an hour to devastating affect. Kaka set up the first for Benzema, (who found the target this time) then combined with Marcelo to score the second and ease Madrid back into their stride. APOEL collapsed and gave up the tie when a third was scored by Benzema after good work from Ozil.
Real might be all but through this quarter-final, but it is clear that a likely semi with Bayern would see them out of the competition unless they shape up fast.
When Madrid's two most important men, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho are below par, the whole outfit struggles. Ronaldo was dynamic and direct but still looks selfish and easily riled, at times drifting out of the match completely. Mourinho is sporting a full grey head of hair, perhaps a telling sign of the fans bickering and boardroom meddling that has fed rumours of his return to England.
News that captain Iker Casillas called a meeting behind the boss' back doesn't paint a picture of harmony at the Bernebeu either. Sometimes you have to wonder what Mourinho wants from football. Such a talented manager, at Real he has resorted to his tried and tested Chelsea practice of 'us against the world' when trying to unite his team. This mantra is used to fuel controversy and make officials think twice over decisions involving his side and their rivals. For a proud and glamorous club such as Real Madrid, it is quite a remarkably low place to stoop.
Having seemed certain to top the league and placed favourites for the Champions League along with Barca, Real could end up empty handed come the summer. Their La Liga advantage can only be considered three points unless you back Madrid to come away with something when they face a resurgent Barca at the Nou Camp in April. And a potential CL semi-final against a firing Bayern will be tough with the German side desperate to make the show-piece final held on home turf in Munich.
Above all, the buck stops with Mourinho. He has been to thank for Real's overhaul of Barca domestically this season, and takes credit for their response to their rivals' domestic and European double last year. He therefore must also take the blame for Real's suffering in recent weeks, with his personality and penchant to court controversy affecting the team. First he fuelled rumours of an exit when pictured in England looking for houses, now he loses the plot when his players need him to direct operations most.
It would still require quite a catastrophe for Madrid to fire a blank this season, but unless the capital side fix up they could find themselves in an unthinkable situation. Mourinho is a gifted motivator and creative man manager, but his attitude is having a negative impression on his charges. His anxiety and ability to lose his cool at the drop of a hat has transferred onto his players. He already has a fractured relationship with the Madridistas, which could get a whole lot worse should Real balls up a campaign of near complete domination.
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