Tired of Real Madrid against Barcelona? Don't worry, there's a new show in town -- Real Madrid against Mourinho. It made its debut last weekend and it should run until the end of June. It is not expected to be back in the autumn.
Ahead of tonight's Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg against Barcelona, Jose Mourinho was asked yesterday if he was happy at the club. "Mmm" was his reply, accompanied by a brief nodding of the head. He isn't even though the dream of becoming the first coach to do the 'Grand Slam' by winning the English, Italian and Spanish league titles is alive and well.
Real are five points clear and have scored 67 goals -- a Spanish record for the first half of the season. But that counts for nothing at a club who have hired and fired 30 times in the last 30 years.
Two defeats by Barcelona in the space of a month have helped re-open the wounds inflicted the last time the club had to face their foe twice in quick succession.
Despite a run of 15 straight victories in La Liga, last week's cup first-leg defeat at home brought all the bad feeling to the surface again in a squad accused of being torn into two camps -- the Portuguese-speaking players, who defend and are defended by their coach, and the Spanish internationals who don't and aren't.
"I don't create cliques," said Mourinho yesterday, almost inadvertently confirming that they exist at the club.
Sergio Ramos, with whom Mourinho clashed last weekend, tried to present a united front by insisting: "The relationship with the coach has always been good. Mourinho remains the ideal coach for Madrid, and we are content with him."
That came after Ramos been summoned to president Florentino Perez's business headquarters on Monday to report on the mood inside the dressing-room.
That the president chose to confer with a player and not with the man he pays to manage the players may well indicate that the point of no return has already been reached, regardless of Ramos comments.
Having lost the first leg 2-1 after taking the lead, Madrid must score twice tonight to have any chance of advancing.
On that basis, Mourinho could pair attacking midfielders Mesut Ozil and Kaka, who have won eight of the nine games they have started together. The Real boss said that defender Pepe will play if he escapes a ban for stomping on Lionel Messi in the first leg.