By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It was hardly the time for bravado. Jose Mourinho‘s claims that Manchester City cannot compete with Real Madrid in terms of history and prestige in Europe may have been close to the teams’ respective realities, but the last thing the Portuguese needs right now is to wind up a dangerous rival he so desperately needs to beat on Tuesday.
Madrid may have won a trophy this term but that is about all they have to draw upon in terms of positives so far. Mourinho has endured his worst start to a league season after seeing his side collect just four points from their opening four fixtures; the Liga champions were already at a low ebb and after Saturday’s loss to Sevilla, the Portuguese struggled to explain exactly why.
Mourinho‘s Madrid have been criticised since the very beginning of his reign, with the reasons ranging from a lack of identity on the pitch, strange selections and a negative tactical approach – particularly in games against Barcelona. Never, though, has a Madrid side coached by Mourinho been accused of lacking intensity, commitment, effort or hunger. Never, that is, until now.
Madrid were outfought in Seville on Saturday and not for the first time this season. The 1-1 draw at home to Valencia on the opening weekend was put down to the extreme heat in the capital and a lack of fitness. But fast forward a month and Madrid look no better than they did on that balmy evening. Defeat at Getafe and now in Seville – either side of an unconvincing 3-0 win at home to Granada – have left Mourinho‘s men eight points adrift of Tito Vilanova’s Barca, barely four weeks into the season.
“We have only played well in the Supercopa,” the Portuguese said on Saturday. Beating Barca over two legs had made madridistas believe that a change of cycle was truly in store, coming as it did on the back of last season’s success in La Liga. But any such plans are currently on the back burner following the side’s dismal displays so far in the Primera Division.
Mourinho admitted he is ultimately responsible, but also sent a stark message to his players on Saturday as he claimed that many of them are far from focused on the job at hand. “There are very few heads who are committed and concentrated, and who have football as the priority in their lives,” he revealed.
And it showed.
Cristiano Ronaldo remains in the eye of the storm after telling reporters of his unhappiness prior to the international break. He was well below his brilliant best on Saturday, failing to truly trouble Andres Palop and unable to beat a Sevilla defender for love nor money – the rumoured reasons behind his suffering in the first place.
Elsewhere, Karim Benzema looks low on confidence after failing to score since May, Marcelo was beaten at will on the left, Mesut Ozil still seems to be on holiday and even ever-reliable Iker Casillas spilled a Jesus Navas shot which led to a corner from which the Sevilla goal arrived – after just 68 seconds.
And there was worse still.
Angel Di Maria was unlucky not to have been sent off and made a lazy – and unsuccessful – attempt to track Piotr Trochowski for the goal, while Gonzalo Higuain missed several clear chances and also escaped a red card for kicking out at Fernando Navarro. An attitude adjustment is now needed.
Worryingly for Madrid, Mourinho appears mystified by his side’s slipshod showings. The Portuguese has only ever coached one team for three full seasons and that was Chelsea, where the former Porto boss led the Blues to back-to-back titles before missing out on the Premier League crown to Manchester United in 2006-07.
||There are very few heads who are committed and concentrated, and who have football as the priority in their lives. That makes it tough
– Jose Mourinho
That season started slowly as well and Mourinho‘s men never recovered. Perhaps, however, they had failed to recover from the intense fitness drills from his first two campaigns. He is said to squeeze as much as he possibly can from his players in order to implement a game plan which requires optimum fitness, incredible intensity and a tremendous tempo throughout the season. With the bulk of his squad away at Euro 2012 in the summer and again with their respective international teams last week, perhaps they simply have little left in the tank right now. And like Barcelona before them on Saturday, Madrid may have benefited from changes to the starting XI in Seville.
Mourinho has upset his players previously with public criticism of their performances, and his quotes on Saturday are only likely to add to the tension ahead of what is another tough test at home to Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday.
And after questioning City’s calibre and European pedigree, the Portuguese will have given Roberto Mancini’s men all the incentives they need for their trip to the Santiago Bernabeu. But with La Liga looking tricky already and the Champions League his top target in 2012-13, Mourinho now needs to motivate his own players – and he needs to do it fast.
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