By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
There could be no excuses, claimed Jose Mourinho after Real Madrid’s 1-0 defeat to Betis on Saturday night. But the Portuguese the proceded to list a series of reasons for his side’s loss in Seville – the referee, a lack of rest, his players’ fitness, the calendar and so on. Everyone else, it seemed, was at fault.
The 49-year-old claimed he would take responsibility for the loss – Madrid’s third defeat in La Liga already this season – but bemoaned exterior influences. He had been right about the referee with regard to Karim Benzema’s disallowed goal, because the Frenchman was onside as Luka Modric played through a perfect pass which the striker coolly converted in the second half. But his claim that the official was also “hugely at fault” for a late penalty claim for handball is questionable as the ball was blasted straight at Betis’ Nigerian midfielder Nosa by Kaka and may have hit the African’s chest first anyway, while hints at Barcelona controlling the schedule seemed simply ludicrous, especially as the Catalans had been in Primera Division action at Granada in late September just three days after a Champions League game of their own.
“I am the only one who speaks about such things – I am the bad guy,” Mourinho added.
It wasn’t long ago, of course, that the Portuguese added the Spanish Supercopa to the Liga title he won last term and the Copa del Rey claimed in his first season at the Santiago Bernabeu, but the current campaign was supposed to mark a change of cycle in Spain and at the moment, that appears less than likely. Should Madrid end the season as they have begun it, Mourinho really would be the bad guy.
La Liga looks lost already. On Sunday, the gap with Barcelona could widen to 11 points if they beat Levante, and Atletico can move eight clear of their city-rivals with a win over Sevilla. Mourinho’s Madrid are not even second best right now, and were also outplayed by Borussia Dortmund over their two meetings with the Bundesliga champions in Europe. They may already be in the second round of the Champions League, but had to settle for second place in Group D and as things stand now, will not be feared in the knock-out stages.
On Saturday, they went behind to a fine strike from Benat, but the goal emanated from a Madrid mistake as Angel Di Maria hoofed the ball infield instead of upfield and Sami Khedira failed to challenge the Basque. Madrid rallied but Di Maria, having played 90 minutes in midweek, was dreadful, while Cristiano Ronaldo remains out of sorts and failed to net for the third successive match. On top of that, Benzema was largely isolated, Mesut Ozil was desperately disappointing and Madrid were too predictable late on as they threw everything at their hosts.
Betis, thrashed in the derby with Sevilla last weekend, looked leaner, fitter, faster and hungrier, causing Mourinho to complain about his own players’ lack of intensity. But one of the Portuguese’s faults is the insistence on using the same pool of players week in, week out. No wonder they are tired.
And the blame game hardly helps. Betis also saw a poor offside decision go against them as Ruben Castro looked to go through on goal, while Sergio Ramos and Pepe could conceivably have been sent off. The decisions evened themselves out and, all in all, Madrid more or less deserved what they got – nothing.
Mourinho claims he won’t throw in the towel in La Liga, despite the damaging deficit, and he is correct. After all, it’s still only November and Barca cannot continue to win as they have been for the entire campaign.
In the whole of last season, though, Madrid dropped just 14 points as they accumulated a century to win La Liga with a new record total. This term, 13 have already been spilled and there are still 25 games left to play.
Early last season, Madrid lost at Levante and failed to beat Racing Santander, before embarking on a remarkable run until the end of the campaign. Now they need something similar. Mourinho’s constant complaints are part of the Portuguese’s plan to make his players believe everyone and everything is against them, a clever psychology to motivate his squad – just as he has done at all of his clubs.
But several stars are currently under-performing, Ronaldo among them, and Mourinho would do well to focus on why his side is having such trouble to break down teams like Betis, why they still seem shaky in defence and why they are both outfought and outplayed in seemingly winnable away matches, instead of apportioning blame elsewhere.
It is, of course, Mourinho’s way of deflecting attention away from his own players following a disappointing result, but that’s only half the job. With Madrid’s media turning against the Portuguese and La Liga slipping away already, the 49-year-old has plenty on his plate in the coming weeks.
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