Saturday 25 February 2017

Mourinho looks to science

Madrid boss says he has 'no magic potion' to stop Barca ahead of Clasico semi-final

Pete Jensen

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images

Quoting Albert Einstein, accusing Pep Guardiola of criticising referees even when they get decisions right, and then calming euphoria among his own supporters by saying he had "no magic potion" to stop Barcelona: Jose Mourinho was on top form yesterday as he prepared for tonight's Champions League semi-final first leg.

Barcelona coach Guardiola, meanwhile, was left counting fit players as, for the first of the biggest two games of the season so far, he was left with just two fully fit defenders.

"Einstein wasn't stupid," said Mourinho, beaming with an even greater self-confidence having won his first trophy as Real manager six days ago.

"He said that the one force greater than atomic power was will power. We have worked tremendously hard to reach this position. I don't have a magic potion to stop Barcelona. I am the same coach who lost 5-0 to them last November, but we have worked extremely hard."

It was Mourinho at his positive and aggressive best, with the former Chelsea coach perhaps sensing that his Barcelona counterpart is not too far away from having a 'Kevin Keegan moment'.

Mourinho and Guardiola have engaged in an on-off psychological war all season and after the weekend's league matches there were signs that, much as Alex Ferguson did to the more inexperienced Keegan in 1996, Mourinho is beginning to grind his opponent down.

Happy

"Mourinho will be happy," said Guardiola at the weekend when asked about plans to hand officiating duties for tonight's game to the Real manager's fellow Portuguese Pedro Proenca. Uefa eventually decided not to go with Proenca and selected Wolfgang Stark instead.

However, Mourinho used the controversy to launch into his most direct attack so far this season on Guardiola, who had earlier criticised the decision to rule out a Barcelona goal in last week's Spanish Cup final against Real despite replays showing scorer Pedro was indeed offside.

Mourinho said: "We seem to be starting a new era. Until now we have two groups of coaches. One very small group who never talk about referees and one much bigger group, of which I am part, who talk about referees when it feels that a wrong decision has been made. But now we have a third group with only Guardiola in it, of coaches who criticise a referee for getting a decision right.

"I have never seen anything like it. Maybe it is because in his first season he lived through the scandal of Stamford Bridge and perhaps from that time on he is not happy when referees get it right.

"He played against one less in the match with Inter last season and then again in the match against Arsenal. Now in the cup final when the referee has a very difficult decision to make, and he gets it right, he criticises it."

Mourinho has played Barcelona 10 times and only on four occasions seen his team reach the end of the game with 11 men. "All I hope is that the match official is a good referee and a lucky one, because he will need a little bit of luck as well," he said.

Asked if he thought Guardiola was more a friend of the referee than himself, Mourinho said he only had one referee who was his friend, Mark Halsey, who successfully fought cancer to return to refereeing in 2010 but who, Mourinho added, "will be retired before I go back to England so it will not be a problem to be friends with him."

Guardiola's failure to steer clear of the tiresome refereeing debate that clouds Spanish football and is magnified whenever Real Madrid and Barcelona face each other is an indication that it is now Barcelona who need a distraction and not Real Madrid.

For much of the season Mourinho's match-official rants have been seen as a tactic to mask his team's shortcomings. Barcelona's coach now needs a decoy as he plays his third Champions League semi-final in three years and his second against Mourinho, but with a threadbare squad boasting only two fully fit defenders -- Gerard Pique and Dani Alves.

Carles Puyol has come through his last two training sessions without any reaction to a hamstring injury picked up in the league match against Real and could start, but he has not played 90 minutes since January -- spending the best part of three months out with tendinitis.

If he starts it could be at left-back because Guardiola has all three options for that position unavailable. Eric Abidal is still recuperating from an operation to remove a tumour from his liver, Adriano is out for the season with a torn groin muscle and, with a similar problem, third-choice Maxwell also misses the game at the Bernabeu.

If Puyol slots in at left-back, Javier Mascherano will continue in the centre of defence alongside Pique, who admitted this week what a massive influence Puyol is alongside him.

"I told him how much I've missed him during the game he came back in," said Pique. "And he started shouting back at me to shut up and concentrate. That is what he is like. I was in a game once when we were 4-0 up and somebody on the other team was being carried off with a couple of minutes left and he was still balling at me to stay focused."

Puyol's authority, aerial ability, and understanding with his Spain team-mate have all been sorely missed, none more so than in the cup final that Barcelona lost to Cristiano Ronaldo's first goal in open play against them last week.

Ronaldo re-enters his personal duel with Leo Messi full of confidence, while Messi is still looking for his first goal in a Champions League semi-final. He failed to score against Manchester United in 2008, against Chelsea in 2009 and again drew a blank against Inter last year.

He has scored 50 goals so far this season, however, and looks like outscoring 42-goal Ronaldo, although it is the latter who Madrid fans now believe will have the one extra game to play at Wembley in May.

A prickly Guardiola said at the weekend: "They are the favourites now; I keep reading that they are already in the final." But Mourinho did his best yesterday to prevent any of that typical Madrid over-confidence affecting his players.

"There are no favourites in semi-finals," he said. "Maybe after the first leg we can talk about one team having a slight advantage but before the first-leg, no way."

If Mourinho's record in knockout competitions is any gauge of how this semi-final will go then maybe Real Madrid should be favourites. He has won 53 of 64 such encounters, with Sampdoria the last team to beat him in the Italian Cup in 2009. And then with Madrid, culminating in the Spanish Cup win last week and arriving at the first Clasico European Cup semi-final since 2002, when Real Madrid won 3-1 over two legs on their way to winning the competition for the ninth time.

Mourinho was asked last night if he would leave the club if he won them their 10th European Cup, just as he walked away from Inter and Porto after successful finals. "I have not won it yet," he replied, "let's answer that question first." (© Independent News Service)

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