Chasing the Cup - Why Real Madrid need to focus on the knockout competitions to salvage their season

With the Los Blancos trailing Barcelona by a massive 18 points, it is imperative that Mourinho and his men shift their focus solely to the knockout competitions they are in...
Last season, if one would have told you Real Madrid would be languishing third in the La Liga, even behind unfancied local rivals, Atletico Madrid, it would be easy to laugh at the incompetence of the analyst. In Jose Mourinho's second full season in charge at the capital club, he had successfully broken the Catalan domination while in the meantime shattering records aplenty, ending with a massive 100 points haul at the end of the season. With seemingly the same personnel as last year, it was widely perceived that Los Blancos would continue to dominate this season, especially with a rudderless Barcelona after Pep Guardiola's sudden departure.

Things certainly have not panned out that way. Barcelona have opened up an almost uncatchable 18 points advantage at the top and even more surprisingly Atletico lead Madrid by 7 points. While the championship winning team had been defeated just twice during their entire campaign, this time around they have already been beaten four times. Several factors have played their part in the disastrous campaign so far, with the indifferent form of Madrid's star men from last season hitting them hard.

While opinions within the Madrid hierarchy still believe that the La Liga is not a lost goal, realistically speaking the race is all but over. While professional players would like to win all what they compete in, even some Los Blancos players have been voicing their opinion at a shift in priorities to salvage their season which is in a downward spiral.

Halfway across the season, the Barcelona side who are still unbeaten in the league, will in no way let an 18 point advantage slip and hence any hopes of a silverware for the capital club will lie in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. Mourinho and his men will however need to ensure that they do manage to capture a top two finish in the league and a seven point deficit over their local rivals can easily be overturned without much of a strain. While fans will always expect them to overturn their fierce rivals, a more realistic take on their current situation will warrant a rethink of their priorities this time around.

In the Copa del Rey, they are up against a Valencia side that are underperforming as well, at a lowly 7th place in the league, having already been defeated 7 times this season. A win will however see them face either Barcelona or Malaga in the semi-finals. One can take it for granted that Barcelona will make short work of Malaga, as they demonstrated in their recent 3-1 victory against them. Even Malaga had got the better of Madrid this season, in any case.

What goes in favour of the capital side if they were to meet Barcelona which is most likely, is the relative ascendancy that they enjoy in the El Clasicos, especially in the recent years. They truimphed in the Super Cup by winning on away goals as the aggregate over the two legs stood at 4-4. In the La Liga enoucnter between them, Madrid managed to snatch a point with a vital 2-2 draw. The Copa del Rey, being a two legged encounter, Mourinho's tactical acumen will take centre stage over the relatively inexperienced Tito Vilanova.

The Champions League is a completely different ball game altogether. With Madrid struggling in the group stages, albeit pitted against league champions all around did not help. A second placed finish meant that they drew the toughest opponent they could for the Round of 16 in Manchester United.

Both these teams started the season in an indifferent form with the essential difference that while Madrid were champions, United had relinquished their crown to the 'noisy neighbours'. However, while the unflustered Sir Alex Ferguson has chalked out a remarkable recovery from the early season doldrums to lead their nearest challengers Manchester City by 7 points, Mourinho has become more involved in controversies and the club has been ashore with internal conflicts and egos.

The Round of 16 clash will see one team clearly on a high, with confidence bustling through and new signing Robin Van Persie settling in ever so well, against a battered team who cannot realize their fall from grace. However, turmoil does bring out the best, and Real Madrid will hope to rise out of the ashes to secure their passage in the Champions League, regaining their form from last season.

When Jose Mourinho takes on his 'friend Sir Alex Ferguson', the clash will certainly determine whether the Portuguese is able to win the  silverware that had been missing from the trophy cabinet at the Santiago Bernabeu for almost over ten years. However this would mean that Mourinho and his men will have to concentrate their focus entirely on the cup competitions, but will have to improve by leaps and bounds to be close to the mesmerising form they were in, last season.

However if there was one man who you could bet your entire worth on, to take a team out of the doldrums into glory, it had to be the Portuguese Prodigy who would look to be the first person to win three Champions League crown with three different teams.

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