Jose Mourinho heads into tomorrow's El Classico clash with Barcelona facing mounting criticism from both Real Madrid's supporters and players and amid claims his spell as Real Madrid manager will not last beyond the summer.
Mourinho's team are five points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga, but his position has been undermined by the publication of a training ground argument between the manager and two of his senior players -- defender Sergio Ramos and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
The exchange was carried in full by Madrid-based newspaper 'Marca', which usually performs a cheer-leading function for the club. Mourinho has not denied the accuracy of the report, which portrayed him as tetchy and even paranoid.
Towards the end of Sunday's 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao, some Madrid fans chanted Mourinho's name, as if to indicate their support for him had not been affected by the report.
However, a larger section of the Bernebeu crowd responded by whistling, sending a very clear signal that they are not happy with the former Chelsea manager.
After the game, a leading Spanish journalist, Siro Lopez of 'AS', told television viewers Mourinho had decided to leave Madrid at the end of the season.
Lopez said the information had come from one of Mourinho's closest allies.
The training ground exchange occurred in the aftermath of Madrid's 2-1 defeat at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their Spanish Cup semi-final.
Mourinho was widely criticised for his side's negative tactics and they must now go to the Nou Camp and win tomorrow's second leg if the manager is to avoid yet another defeat at the hands of Pep Guardiola's Barca.
Mourinho claimed Ramos had given a disloyal interview to journalists immediately after the first leg.
"You (guys) killed me (with your quotes to journalists) in the mixed zone," Mourinho is reported to have said.
According to 'Marca', Mourinho then claimed Spanish internationals like Ramos and Casillas are given preferential treatment by the media, while Mourinho is left to defend his team from the sternest criticism.
"Of course, as you Spanish are world champions, your friends in the press protect you... like the goalkeeper," he said.
Casillas overheard this remark and shouted, "Boss, here we say things to our faces."
Mourinho then became embroiled in a further exchange with Ramos over the failure to mark Carlos Puyol for one of Barcelona's goals.
Ramos had the final word with a devastating reference to Mourinho's lack of a distinguished playing career.
He said: "Depending on the match situation, sometimes it's necessary to change the marking. And as you have never been a (professional) player, you wouldn't know that this is sometimes necessary."
Mourinho has also been criticised for the behaviour of Portuguese defender Pepe, who provoked outrage in Spain by first feigning injury during the game against Barcelona and then stamping on the hand of Lionel Messi.
Publicly, Mourinho says his resolve is as strong as ever. "I'm not bothered by the whistles at me," Mourinho said after the win over Bilbao.
"It's not a problem. It's the first time it's ever happened to me. There's a first time for practically everything.
"(Zinedine) Zidane was whistled at here. Ronaldo has been whistled at here. Cristiano (Ronaldo), who is the latest Golden Boot winner, has also been whistled at. Why can't I?
"Zidane responded with his football, the same as Ronaldo and Cristiano. I work hard to be able to respond like they did some day, but there may come a day when the fans are sad."
Meanwhile, Barcelona vice president Javier Faus expects Guardiola to decide his future "in a couple of weeks".
The Barca coach's future is almost constantly the subject of speculation due to his insistence on short contracts and, while his current deal expires this summer, the former club captain is expected to remain at the Nou Camp.
Faus told fcbarcelona.cat: "We want Pep to stay here for many years. We will know his decision in a couple of weeks and we hope his response will be positive." (© Daily Telegraph, London)