By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Jose Mourinho asked for a reaction – and he got one. Real Madrid had endured a miserable start to the season, with two defeats and a draw in their opening three games. But after Wednesday night’s Spanish Supercopa success, that has all been forgotten now.
So poor in Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Getafe, Madrid found triumph through adversity with a first title of the campaign on Wednesday – and it was all down to Mourinho’s motivational might. The Portuguese coach has often sent out assistant Aitor Karanka to his post-match press conferences following difficult defeats, but faced up to the media on Sunday – and sent a clear message to his players.
The 49-year-old publicly questioned his squad’s defensive discipline, technique, will to win and hunger following a season in which they gave everything to wrestle La Liga from Barcelona and revealed he had handed his players a dressing down after they had lost to their cross-city rivals at the weekend. Then, on Tuesday, he hoped to discover – he said – whether his charges were suffering a ‘psychological’ problem or merely a momentary malaise.
His opposite number, Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova, prefers to work away from the media spotlight, so the pre-match press patter had all been about Mourinho. The coach set a public challenge to his players and, with their pride pricked and professionalism probed, Madrid responded on the football field last night.
Poker face | Mourinho greets Vilanova before the Supercopa second leg on Wednesday
As Mourinho had added on Tuesday, the Spanish Supercopa remained wide open after the first match at Camp Nou. It shouldn’t have been, as Victor Valdes made a meal of an Adriano pass-back to allow Angel Di Maria a late goal and hand Madrid a lifeline last Thursday, in a game which finished 3-2 to Barcelona but felt almost like a loss for the Catalan club given the nature of the game’s frenzied finale.
Buoyed by that tonic and fired up by their coach’s criticism, Madrid began Wednesday’s second leg with an incredible intensity which forced their fiercest rivals into further errors. Valdes made one early save to deny Gonzalo Higuain but could do nothing to prevent the Argentine from opening the scoring after he was left one-on-one with the striker following Javier Mascherano’s awful attempt to clear Pepe’s long, looping ball.
That fired up the fans and there was another error 10 minutes later, when Gerard Pique made a mess of another pass from deep – this time from Sami Khedira – and allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to back-heel the ball over his head. The Portuguese then took time to control in the area and, with little in the way of support, smashed home a shot via Valdes’ legs. The goalkeeper should have done better, and so should his defence. Barca were on the rack – and there was worse to come for the Catalans.
After Valdes had done well to save from Higuain and Pepe had seen a goal disallowed for a foul, Adriano was shown a straight red card for grappling last-man Cristiano to the floor. With 27 minutes gone, Barca were two goals down and a man down, too.
Madrid, meanwhile, remained rampant. Khedira almost made it 3-0 a minute later and Higuain missed another fantastic opportunity as Mourinho’s men threatened to put the game well and truly out of reach.
Instead, however, it was Barca who struck next as Messi hit a rare free-kick goal, curling an unstoppable left-footed effort past Iker Casillas to strike a psychological blow just before the interval. It was 4-4 on aggregate now and one more goal would see Barca back on top.
And they came desperately close to it. Casillas produced a vital intervention to deny Pedro with his feet after the winger had showed extraordinary control to bring down a ball in the area and the Madrid keeper made a second save from a tight angle to thwart the same player moments later.
Higuain should have made it 3-1 at the other end but hit the post after beating Valdes and Messi came close to winning it as he curled a last-minute effort just the wrong side of the upright.
Madrid should have been out of sight by then and almost paid for their profligacy. Higuain was the principal culprit as he missed several superb chances, but the Argentine’s opener set his side on their way to a first Clasico win at the Santiago Bernabeu since 2008 and a first at home under Mourinho.
The Portuguese recently claimed he would happily lose the Supercopa and win La Liga, but given the circumstances of his side’s season start, the 49-year-old will have been eager to claim this trophy. Mourinho’s men stuck a psychological blow with Wednesday’s win, banished their Bernabeu blues versus Barca and made it a Spanish set under their coach, who has now claimed Supercopa, Liga and Copa del Rey titles at Real Madrid.
So while last night’s title may have been the least important, belief is back and this victory can now act as a catalyst for Madrid’s season – all thanks to Mourinho’s message. Barcelona had better beware.
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