By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Jose Mourinho knows exactly where his priorities lie. The Portuguese wants to win all of the time but he is aware that the rest of the 2012-13 campaign is all about the Champions League and the final of the Copa del Rey for his Madrid side. All of his thoughts are geared towards success in those tournaments, so injuries in La Liga represent an incredible inconvenience at this stage.
Madrid beat Betis 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday evening (with two goals from Mesut Ozil and one from Karim Benzema) as a number of youngsters and fringe players were used ahead of Real's trip to Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. But victory came at a price as Marcelo, Luka Modric, Benzema and Diego Lopez all picked up injuries.
|ABI BACK AS MESSI SITS OUT
|Eric Abidal was the surprise starter for Barcelona at home to Levante on Saturday.
The Frenchman began his first match for the Catalan club since February 2012, having been sidelined for a long period following his liver transplant.
And not only did he start, but he was perhaps Barcelona's best player in their 1-0 win, helping the Catalans to a clean sheet alongside Adriano in central defence and providing an attractive alternative for Tito Vilanova in the team's Champions League semi-final tie against Bayern Munich. "He gives us another option," assistant Jordi Roura said afterwards.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, was left out on doctor's advice, although sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta claimed he will be fit for Tuesday's first leg at the Allianz Arena. "His recovery process is very good. We were thinking of him and the game on Tuesday," he said after the match.
Madrid's Group D defeat at BVB earlier in the season came as Marcelo and Coentrao both missed the game in Germany, and Dortmund exploited an out-of-position Essien. Mourinho must now hope his fellow Portuguese is fit for Wednesday as he is already short in the full-back positions. With Arbeloa also out, Sergio Ramos looks set to start on the right versus Jurgen Klopp's men, with Pepe and Raphael Varane in the centre of defence.
With Xabi Alonso rested, Modric started alongside youngster Casemiro on Saturday. The Brazilian impressed on his first-team debut, but the Croat failed to pull the strings and was finally forced off with a muscle strain in the second half. "Luka has a muscle problem. We thought it was just a dead leg but he felt something, so we will have to see how bad it is," assistant Aitor Karanka told the press after the match.
Benzema also went off with a knock, yet Karanka claimed he should be fit for Wednesday, while Diego Lopez looks likely to start in Germany too, even though the Galician was unable to take his goal kicks in the second half because of a hip problem, with Raul Albiol stepping in. The former Villarreal and Sevilla goalkeeper was able to complete the 90 minutes, however. "I don't think it's anything serious," said Karanka.
This means, of course, that Iker Casillas is likely to have to wait for his next Madrid start. The club captain gave Lopez a peck on the cheek prior to kick-off to wish his team-mate good luck with a generous gesture.
It was later reported by some sectors of the Spanish media that Madrid's ultras had insulted Iker during the game, although these claims turned out to be merely an Internet hoax on Twitter picked up by the local press at the game itself.
After Madrid's match, Barca left it late to beat Levante at Camp Nou, with Cesc Fabregas' 84th-minute strike separating the two teams after David Villa had seen a first-half penalty saved by Keylor Navas.
The Catalans can now claim La Liga if they win at Athletic Bilbao (where Madrid won the Primera Division last term) and Real lose at Atletico in the capital clash, althouth the team in red and white have failed to beat their city rivals in a competitive match since 1999.
Either way, Barca are on the brink of winning back the title, as Spain's top two travel to Germany this week in their respective European semi-finals; Tito's team face Bayern in Munich as the Catalans search for a fifth trophy in the Champions League, while Madrid will hope their Decima dream is not decimated by more injuries in Dortmund.
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