Los Blancos had a weekend scare, but they’ll be aiming to be back to their best for the visit of los Granotes...
Real Madrid showed immense character to battle to a 1-0 victory against Sevilla on Sunday to keep pace with Primera Division leaders Barcelona, but their challenge now is to overcome Levante in the Copa del Rey, a trophy that has eluded the capital side for almost 20 years.
Coach Jose Mourinho is nothing if not a superb competitor and the Portuguese has already sent out a signal of intent to end los Merengues’ drought in Spain’s premier cup competition. Against Murcia in the previous round, virtually a full strength side was deployed by the Bernabeu side. The players failed to respond in the opening fixture, held 0-0, but they showed their true face at home, romping to an easy 5-1 success.
Competitive spirit was etched in the manner of their victory over Sevilla at the weekend. By rights los Blancos should have lost. They were reduced to 10 men and los Nervionenses had several good chances to strike, but Madrid came through 1-0 in the end thanks to Angel di Maria.
Mourinho was not impressed, however. It wasn’t his players who were the target of his ire, rather the matchday officials, who he claimed made 13 grave errors over the course of the fixture. Outspoken and brash, the coach also has supreme confidence, and it’s clear that this is something that is beginning to rub off on his side.
Lesser teams might have folded in the wake of their Clasico defeat, but the Bernabeu club continue to plod on with win following win. ‘Mou’ will be aiming for more of the same on Wednesday.
Come Out Alive
Levante’s reintroduction into top flight football has been relatively successful so far. The Valencia-based club lie outside of the relegation zone at Christmas, and though they are by no means out of the woods, Luis Garcia’s side can be broadly pleased with what they’ve achieved to date. The Primera Division will be their main focus, and anything they can achieve in the Copa del Rey will simply be a bonus.
At the weekend, los Granotes showed that they can still be uncertain when faced with top level opposition, going down 2-1 against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend. Though they controlled possession for long spells, the hosts failed to turn this superiority into effective shots on goal, registering only through Felipe Caicedo.
The relative minnows have spent time joking prior to Wednesday’s match about Jose Mourinho’s referee jibes, with Xisco Munoz arguing that los Granotes could write “an encyclopaedia” of poor decisions given against them on a game-by-game basis.
Luis Garcia, meanwhile, is simply aiming to keep things tight in the first game, giving his side a chance in the return leg. “We have to come out alive and have options in the second leg,” he told Marca. “This is a great time and we can take advantage to make history.”
It would certainly be a sensation if Levante were to overcome Real Madrid over two legs, and they will have to be perfectly focussed for the first clash at the Bernabeu.
Kaka, Fernando Gago, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Canales, Sami Khedira and Jerzy Dudek are all out with a variety of injury concerns.
Cristiano Ronaldo may sit out with acute tonsillitis, though he has been named in Jose Mourinho’s panel. Marcelo and Xabi Alonso are back after bans.
Felipe Caicedo was somewhat doubtful earlier this week, but he's been named in the squad. Goalkeeper Manuel Reina is missing though.