Anything shot of three points for los Blancos will be considered a huge failure against the Txuri-urdin...
Real Madrid booked another date with Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final by winning through against Sevilla on Wednesday night, but though the knockout competition is clearly precious to Jose Mourinho, it’s the league that earns the greatest kudos.
Los Blancos have seen their title aspirations slip away with a couple of poor performances away from home since the turn of the year. A draw in Almeria hinted that all was not right in the Madrid camp, but this was made clear last weekend when they went down to stubborn Osasuna, who were value for their 1-0 success.
But Mourinho’s sides are nothing if not mentally resilient, bouncing back with a 2-0 victory over Sevilla on Wednesday night at the Bernabeu, where they’ve done nothing but win since the Portuguese took over. Late goals from Mesut Oezil and Emmanuel Adebayor kept that record going in midweek.
Former president Ramon Calderon has increased the tension on a week of unease for the capital side by declaring the backroom troubles of the club as “a powderkeg that is ready to blow”, referring to Mourinho’s relationship with sporting director Jorge Valdano, which isn’t thought to be cordial.
Only victories on the field will prevent the media from leaping to discuss a ‘crisis’, and three points are certainly expected on Sunday.
For a period over the bleakest moments of winter, it seemed that Athletic Bilbao could be sucked into the relegation battle. A run of four successive defeats promised nothing but woe for the San Sebastian club, but they’ve since roused themselves to earn two wins over the course of their last three matches.
A smashing 4-0 victory over Getafe got the ball rolling, and strong hints of a revival were also on show when the Basques went to Villarreal and snatched the lead before ultimately going down 2-1. This disappointment was placed behind them last weekend with a 2-0 home success over Almeria, which keeps the relegation zone a distant 10 points in the rear-view mirror.
Recent results have been reflected in a sense of confidence portrayed prior to this encounter by young French midfielder Antoine Griezmann, who feels there is no sense in la Real travelling to the Bernabeu with a sense of fear. “Madrid are not a big deal,” he dismissed. “We have played against them and are not anything special.”
Sociedad often aren’t anything special when playing away from home, though. From their 11 away trips to date, they’ve lost a staggering seven, picking up three victories along the way. Given these numbers, it’s tough to see the plucky northern side causing a weekend sensation, but then again, those accusations were levelled at Osasuna last weekend.
Pepe, Jerzy Dudek and Gonzalo Higuain all remain sidelined due to injury. Sergio Ramos won’t play this weekend due to a ban.
Joseba Llorente is out for the rest of the season with a serious back complaint. On the other hand, la Real will welcome back Mikel Gonzalez, who was suspended last weekend.