If it was anyone else, you’d pluck the feathers from this dead duck and stick it in the oven. Three goals and a gulf in enthusiasm, energy and class separated them in the first leg and it’s hard to see that changing in the return match.
But this is Real Madrid and the Special One. In front of the often fickle but always vocal stands of the Bernabau, you get the nagging feeling they’re not quite out of it. As Robert Lewandowski’s penalty thumped into the net, it was impossible not to think it would be the Borussia Dortmund players posing for not especially funny photos of them beside stationary beefeaters of the British capital in about a month’s time. They still look hot favourites to do it, but maybe it’s worth not writing the obituaries for Real’s campaign just yet.
The away goal is vital. It means Real have a variety of possible scorelines that will extend their faint hopes until they get dashed at a later point. The brief and somewhat comprehensive list of the scores and how they affect Real is as follows:
- 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 (and any other to nil scoreline that’s more than three) = Go through in normal time
- 4-1 = Extra time
- 5-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-1 (and other scores involving at least one Dortmund away goal, but a winning margin of four or more goals for Real) = Go through in normal time
- 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 4-2, 4-3, 5-2, 6-3 (etc., etc.) = Real out, Jose cries, we all laugh
- Any draw = useless as asking Cristiano Ronaldo to pass to a team-mate
Some of them looking rather reasonable, mainly the 3-0, but also the 4-1 that would take it to extra time. That’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Under Mourinho, Real have made something of a habit of handing out hidings to visitors to the Bernabau. Since the Special One’s arrival in 2010, Real have won 49% of their home games by a margin that would guarantee them at least extra time on Tuesday evening. Namely, that’s a score of 3-0 or better, 4-1 or any win by a margin of four or more goals. Not quite simples, but not quite impossibles either.
The major issue is the quality of opponent. Just because you can beat a bunch of fisherman from the Basque country 10-0 in the Copa Del Rey doesn’t mean you can do the same to a Dortmund team superior even to the team who won the Champions League in 1997. Measuring the strength of teams is subjective and a task as tricky as nailing Cristiano’s hair gel to the wall, but one thing you can say about the quality of opposition that Real have put to the sword under Mourinho is ‘they’re not great’. The phrase ‘flat-track bullies’ might do Real a disservice, but not the biggest of disservices.
Domestically, they’ve also given occasionally decent teams like Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Espanyol and Deportivo some hidings, but those teams have been up and down like Wayne Rooney’s weight. In the theoretically more difficult environs of Europe, they have given Ajax and Lyon a couple of trouncings each, but again it’s a time when both clubs have been well below their Champions League peak and what some euphemistically call, ‘in transition’. Still though, 41 home wins by a margin of 3-0 or better is none too shabby. Teams they’ve beaten by scorelines that would get them extra time or better under Mourinho include:
- Athletic Bilbao x 3 (5-1, 4-1, 5-1)
- Lyon x 2 (3-0, 4-0)
- Sevilla x 2 (3-0, 4-1)
- Ajax x 2 (3-0, 4-1)
- Espanyol x 2 (3-0, 5-0)
- Deportivo x 2 (6-1, 5-1)
Add to the mix Tottenham (4-0), Malaga (7-0), Atletico Madrid (4-1), CSKA Moscow (4-1) and most recently, Galatasaray (3-0) and you’ve got a decent, if not thoroughly convincing, bit of evidence to justify your vague optimism. Not bad, but also not on the same level of a rampant Dortmund team.
There is hope, but there’s also the opportunity top blithely dismiss that hope if it suits your ends. Real are currently 3/1 to qualify for the final from this bleak position. If it was virtually anyone else, those odds would be substantially higher. Real and Jose have shown they’re capable of doing what it takes when the occasion requires. That’s what makes them Special.