It’s going to be attritional, nerve-shredding and laced with an abundance of caustic comments. You get the impression Jose Mourinho wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Special One goes in to an eight-day period that is punctuated by three games that could define Real Madrid’s season and (if shameless tittle-tattle about his departure over the summer is to be believed) possibly Mourinho’s entire tenure at the Bernabau. Barcelona and the task of wrestling back the La Liga title for the first time since Bernd Schuster was considered their managerial saviour comes on Saturday night.
Before that, they’re off to Bavaria, where they renew their ancient and narky rivalry with Bayern Munich. Real have a poor record in Germany and an even worse one specifically in Munich. Los Blancos haven’t won at any of Bayern’s various homes in a history that comes to nine attempts. As he tends to be when the stats don’t stack up in his favour, Jose adopted a dismissive attitude towards the data. “The past is all about meaningless numbers. History will not be a factor,” he Mourinho-ed.
Jose also was at pains to point out that he has been sleeping peacefully in the build-up to this match. Bayern worry him about as much as the boogie-man worries anyone over the age of four. “These are games on which I have no doubts. I know who is playing, who is on the bench, who is in the stands. I sleep well for one or two days before these games and this is one of those games.”
For all his bravado, it’s a game he would love to win, almost as much for personal reasons as the simmering animosity between the two clubs. Last year, Bayern legend, Franz Beckenbauer laid into Mourinho with an unambiguous character assassination. “He [Mourinho] is rude and uneducated. Just because you wear a cashmere sweater does not make you a gentleman,” said Der Kaiser, adding “he is a rude, loutish man” to remove any possibility of his sentiments being misinterpreted.
Dating back to a time when Mourinho was a young whippersnapper using his tactical manuals for goalposts on the streets of Setubal, the clubs haven’t got along. The 1976 European Cup semi-final meeting of the clubs ended with a broken nose for Roberto Martinez administered by Bayern goalie Sepp Maier. In the first leg of their 1987 European Cup semi-final, Junatio was handed a five year ban for stamping on Lothar Matthaeus – once on the back and once – more memorably – on his face.
Earlier this year, it got economic as Bayern president, Uli Hoeness used the euro crisis to aim a dig at Real. Pointing to the reckless spending of Real versus the relative parsimony of the German league, Hoeness called it “reckless”, claiming “Madrid alone owes more money than all the Bundesliga.”
As entertaining as this the off-field sniping is, there’s a game of football to be played. On the pitch, there’s little to separate the two sides. Both teams are dotted with superstars and seem to have peaked earlier in the season. Bayern made a strong and free-scoring start to the season and rediscovered those shooting boots for a spell in March where they scored 20 goals in a three-game stretch, conceding one. Since then, it’s largely been grinding out victories. Real started their season by bulldozing their way past opponents, but they’ve stumbled as the season continued. They’re still capable of handing out the odd bulldozing, but they look more vulnerable than the team that looked certain to end Barca’s run of titles back in December.
Whether he likes it or not, Jose will need Real to do something special to get a result from the first leg.