But few would have expected such a fall from grace for Jose Mourinho's side. The club finds itself almost out of the La Liga title race lying 15 points behind leaders Barcelona and four behind city rivals Atletico Madrid. In addition to this they have lost seven games in all competitions so far which is a disaster by their high standards. Off the field as well there have been issues surrounding the manager, players and the board as many reports suggests that players have lost their faith in the Portuguese manager who if rumours are to be believed might leave the Spanish giants at the end of the season even though his contract extends till 2016.
It has been a horrible season for Real Madrid so far who have been hit by controversy ever since the start of the season. Cristiano Ronaldo's stating his unhappiness at the club was the tip of the iceberg of problems. The subsequent benching of Sergio Ramos in a Champions League game against Manchester City and Mourinho's scathing attack on his players and during press conferences is just an indication of the turmoil at the Madrid club.
Controversy and Jose Mourinho go hand in hand and it was again inherent when the Portuguese hit back at critics when he was accused of not including youth team players in the first team setup. He did not do his reputation any favours when Iker Casillas was surprisingly benched in a La Liga game over reserve keeper Antonio Adan.
Recent reports of club stalwarts Casillas and Ramos holding a clandestine meeting with club President Florentino Perez expressing their displeasure over Mourinho's presence at the club will only serve to increase the insecurity at the Bernebeu.
While the President has denied the same, one cannot rule out the fact that there have been some ongoing tensions within the club especially with Iker Casillas's girlfriend Sara Carbonero coming out and stating.
|"The dressing room is divided at the moment. We will have to wait and see what happens at the end of the season and whether Mourinho will leave."
- Sara Carbonero, girlfriend of Iker Casillas
Barcelona on the other hand have picked up from where Pep Guardiola left them and even though Victor Valdes has provided a bit of a shock by deciding not to extend his contract with the Catalan giants overall, it has been a perfect season so far for Tito Vilanova's men. Barcelona find themselves on top of the league, 3 defeats in all season and an in-form Lionel Messi who has scored 43 goals since August. The club has also welcomed back long term absentees David Villa and Eric Abidal although the latter has not been included in the squad to face Real Madrid. Barcelona will be without Tito Vilanova for the Clasico as he is in New York undergoing cancer treatment and hence assistant coach Jordi Roura will take over the mantle.
For Real Madrid things are going from bad to worse. The club will be without Iker Casillas who is out for the next two months because of a broken thumb which may leave the door open for Adan or new signing Diego Lopez to make their Clasico debut. Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao will also be absent due to suspension whereas Madrid's first choice defensive partnership of Pepe and Sergio Ramos will also be missing due to injury and suspension respectively.
Seeing all the suspensions and injuries the Los Blancos are suffering from, it will be pretty obvious to put your money on Barcelona winning the tie but what we have learned over the years is never rule out Madrid.
With all the injuries and suspensions, Mourinho's starting XI may be something like this: Diego Lopez, Alvaro Arbeloa, Ricardo Carvalho, Raphael Varane, Marcelo, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Jose Maria Callejon, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema. Although this team might lack the "top" players, it is still a team capable of getting results and a team most managers would happily take as their first choice.
|"There is no Real Madrid side more dangerous than a wounded one."
- Carles Rexach, assistant to Johann Cryuff
It is a game where anything less than a victory for Los Blancos will mean testing times for Mourinho and his men who now only have the two cups to play for this season and with Manchester United in the Champions League, Mourinho will want to keep his Copa Del Rey options open going into that game.
For Real Madrid, all eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo to deliver the goods once again. CR7 has mustered seven goals in the last six Clasico's and has got Barca's measure. The Portuguese forward goes into this game after scoring a hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Granada. In his 32 games for Madrid this season, Ronaldo has scored 33 goals and leads Messi by one goal in 2013.
A lot will depend on Jose Mourinho's tactics as well going into this game. The 'Special One's' record against Barcelona has been pretty decent. It dates back to his time at Chelsea and then the famous two legged victory with Inter Milan. The common thing in those victories was that Mourinho stopped Barcelona from playing their delicate one touch football and with his side desperate for a win, the odds of Mourinho reverting back to those tactics look high.
Mourinho's record of the El Clasico's at the Santiago Bernabéu hasn't been exceptional as former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola usually got the better of his compatriot, but Mourinho is slowly and steadily trying to turn it around.
The coming two months are crucial for the Los Blancos, who face Barcelona and Manchester United in quick successions and a win in the 1st leg of the Copa Del Rey can set the tone for the coming games. Mourinho will know he can't afford to leave it till the second leg seeing Barcelona's form this season and although the Catalan giants will be the favourites going into this game you can never rule out Mourinho's men.
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