What on earth is going on at Real Madrid this season?
Every single step the club seems to take this campaign is littered with discontent, consequence, intrigue, disenchantment and above all else, a sense that things are going horribly wrong and there is little anybody can do about it.
Such is life at Real Madrid, you might say, and to a certain extent that is true – even more so when Barcelona are already 16 points ahead, making retaining the Primera Division title a pipedream.
But even for a club that constantly has prying eyes staring at it from every conceivable angle, this year has been quite incredible and as always, there seems to be one man at its heart who just cannot stand being out of the spotlight. And no, we are not talking about Cristiano Ronaldo here (although he has had more than his share of dummy-out-of-the-pram brattishness this year).
Step forward Jose Mourinho, football’s answer to Richard III, who seems to be on some bizarre mission to alienate himself from everybody at the club, sabotage everything in his path and be damned with the consequences.
Anybody with a passing interest in football – and even those with no interest whatsoever – can tell you that Mourinho is a narcissist, only happy when he is the one who is being lavished with adoration and praise, and now that he has found that there are egos comparable to his own at Madrid (who’d have thought?) the club is imploding from the inside.
The season has been a near-disaster from the get-go and the winter break has done nothing to change things: Los Blancos’ last fixture, at home to Real Sociedad, was the strangest yet.
After making headlines with the controversial dropping of goalkeeper, captain and club legend Iker Casillas, His Specialness was then forced into an embarrassing climb-down when the World Cup winner’s replacement, Antonio Adán, was sent off after just five minutes, meaning Casillas was immediately called back into action from the bench.
The sight of the home crowd cheering their own goalkeeper getting sent off and enthusiastically welcoming Casillas on to the pitch tells you everything about what is wrong at Madrid at the moment.
Nobody believes Mourinho when he says he dropped Casillas for ‘technical reasons’: the Portuguese boss has tried – and spectacularly failed – to take control of the big names in the dressing room and if he despairs at the cartel of influential Spaniards at the core of Madrid’s side, he is fighting a losing battle if the cat whistles and jeers that greeted the announcement of his name before the match are anything to go by.
But Mourinho is acting like a man who knows this and doesn’t care, and if you didn’t know better you would swear he was trying to get the sack. The huge upcoming Champions League tie against Manchester United can be the only thing that is delaying his departure, and either way he is certain to leave in the summer, probably back into the sycophantic bosom of the English press.
Mourinho can’t spin the Spanish media like he can their English counterparts and the criticism of the former Porto boss irks him as much as anything else. The whole thing is a mess and it has you looking for ways to back against them when Celta Vigo, who lead 2-1 after an eventful first leg, go to the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey last 16.
At 12/1 for an away win some might be tempted, with the draw that would see Real eliminated at 7/1 and Madrid a very short 3/20. But while I would love to be tipping up a big-priced winner, the fact is Celta have been mostly poor this year, especially on the road, and even in the state Real are in it is hard to envisage anything but a home win.
Madrid have issues on the road – they have already lost four away games in La Liga, as well as the defeat at Estadio de Balaidos – but they have remained solid at home, even if performances have not been a patch on last season’s efforts.
Los Blancos have won 13 of their 15 home games in all competitions this year, drawing the other two, and even if the atmosphere is poisonous the results keep coming and I have no doubt another will be secured against a side that have lost eight of their nine games on their travels this season.
Seven of those wins have seen over four goals scored (as well as a couple of 2-2 draws) so the even money that Madrid win a match that sees over 3.5 goals is probably the best way to go about getting value on a home victory.
Mourinho has always taken domestic cup competitions seriously and given that the league title is out of reach and the Champions League remains as hard to win as ever, he will want to ensure he doesn’t leave the Bernabeu with a trophyless final campaign.
So expect a strong team and plenty of goals at the top end, while Celta are more than capable of scoring against a side who have kept just six home clean sheets in 15 games and conceded an incredible 13 goals in their last six fixtures.
That is most unlike Mourinho and with five of those games seeing over 3.5 goals (four of them featured five and over) I expect goals at either end. And as bad as things are at Madrid, I think they will still outscore Celta and that evens shout is the play.