Sport Soccer

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Mourinho adds fuel to Clasico firestorm

Pete Jenson in Barcelona

Barcelona fans started a campaign last week proposing that Jose Mourinho be given the silent treatment at the Camp Nou tonight.

Knowing that nothing would upset him more than to be completely ignored when he went for his pre-Clasico stroll on the pitch, the supporters set up their own online initiative called '100,000 silences for Mourinho'. Just 85 people signed up.

The other 99,915 said, 'Nice idea, but if it's all the same we'd rather scream our lungs out as soon as he takes to the field.'

The last time Barca's public enemy No 1 was at the Nou Camp, celebrating Inter Milan's qualification for the Champions League final last season, he was given an impromptu shower by the pitch sprinklers and almost wrestled to the ground by Barcelona 'keeper Victor Valdes. No one at Barcelona was able to stomach his post-match celebrations.

Tonight, he has been promised a welcome to match the one Luis Figo was given in 2002.

Despite having defected to the Casa Blanca in less treacherous circumstances, some more moderate Barca fans are suggesting he is not worthy of another pig's head.

They also point out that, despite giving his former club a torrid time in Europe, Mourinho has never actually won a match at the Camp Nou. Inter went through there last season -- winning 2-1 on aggregate -- but the game finished 1-0 to Barcelona.

This is different. This is a Clasico and Mourinho's rival -- the man he was brought in to dethrone -- is on one hell of a roll. Aside from having won eight of the 10 competitions he has contested since taking over as Barcelona coach 18 months ago, Pep Guardiola has won four straight Clasicos.

His first confrontation with Real Madrid ended in a 2-0 home win in 2008 and later that season his side inflicted a humiliating 6-2 thumping on a Real side coached by Juande Ramos at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Last season, a solitary Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal gave Barcelona victory in the first game at home and in the return fixture Barca again ran out 2-0 winners in Madrid. The striking thing about the record is that the victories have been more easily won away from home.

"It is true that it has been more difficult at home than at the Bernabeu. Anxiety is always a bad thing," said Barcelona defender Carles Puyol.

Those added nerves at home will be something the Mourinho will be looking to make the most of.

Real Madrid are a point clear of Barcelona after 12 games and a point would in no way be a bad result, although captain Iker Casillas has made it clear that will not be the game plan.

"We don't want to talk about a draw because we believe we can go there and get the victory," he said.

That confidence comes from not having tasted defeat in any competition so far this season and Casillas, who has only let in six goals, will, along with each of his team-mates, receive a piece of paper with one final Clasico thought on it ahead of tonight's game.

Inspiration

It is a Mourinho tactic that was used to great effect in the Madrid derby that Real won recently.

The divine inspiration he passes to his talisman Cristiano Ronaldo will perhaps touch on how close La Liga's top scorer came to finally getting the better of Barca defenders Gerard Pique and Puyol in Portugal's 4-0 win over Spain recently. Ronaldo has never scored against Pique and Puyol in five games but he terrorised his former Manchester United team-mate Pique in that international friendly.

Guardiola has, in the past, preferred inspirational film clips before big matches. He famously had his players watch a montage of the best moments from 'Gladiator' before the Champions League final win over United in 2009.

Such has been the hype around this fixture that both coaches have tried to play down its importance.

"It is as if the world will end after the game," said Guardiola recently and Mourinho has called the match "just another game", with his players repeating the phrase as if it were a mantra.

But the brutal domination of Madrid and Barcelona over the rest of the league left 25 points between them and third place last season and means this is anything but just another fixture.

The two matches between Guardiola and Mourinho's sides will decide the title.

Both coaches are unlikely to make changes to their now familiar first XIs.

The Real Madrid coach has been tempted to bring in Lassana Diarra to toughen up his midfield, but will ultimately stay with just Xabi Alonso and Sammi Khedira behind Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain.

Guardiola has also flirted with the idea of bolstering his engine room by recalling Seydou Keita but the 'who to leave out?' problem will mean he continues with five of Spain's World Cup winning side: Sergi Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro and David Villa, joined by Leo Messi, in his attack.

Duck

Just as Ronaldo has never scored against Pique and Puyol, so Messi has never scored against Mourinho. But he has never been in better form to break that duck, having scored 67 goals in his last 67 matches.

He has hit seven goals in eight Clasicos and will come up against a former Chelsea foe Ricardo Carvalho, the player described by Real Madrid's director general Jorge Valdano last week as "still having the body of a teenager".

Valdano admitted being surprised that the Portuguese defender's wise head still sits atop a fully fit footballer's body and the 32-year-old has been outstanding this season. His duel with Messi, like Pique's with Ronaldo, will be crucial but it is the dugout face-off that fascinates more than any other.

Yesterday Guardiola and Mourinho were playing press conference chess, with both clubs cagily trying to schedule their final media appearances after the other. Guardiola came out on top with an 8pm showing. Mourinho will content himself with making sure his team has the last word tonight.

Barcelona v Real Madrid,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0

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