With the first game played last Saturday, Real Madrid plays Barcelona four times in 18 days in a unprecedented series of matches.
On face value only one trophy is at stake and that will decided in game two that goes tonight in Valencia – the final of the Copa del Rey.
But there is a definitive sense that we are dealing with much more than a domestic cup and a place in the Champions League final that will decided in the next two weeks.
Barcelona have the very real possibility of completing a second treble in just three seasons and cementing a place amongst the greatest club teams we have ever seen – perhaps the best ever, some will argue.
On the other side are Real Madrid, a club trying desperately to show Europe and the world that they are the sort of legitimate contenders they have imagined themselves to be for close to a decade.
With such story lines the papers and the internet should be alive with talk of players, line-ups, head-to-head confrontations and controversial decisions.
Instead we have one man dominating the headlines and he is not even a player.
To some Jose Mourinho is as welcome as a hangover, but you cannot question his ability to pull us into his tangled web.
Last week his first shot across the bow came when he announced that he had his Madrid players practicing playing 10 v 11 with the 11 representing Barcelona of course. No matter that most teams do this on a routine basis, his “admission” was flashed around the globe.
(Of course the fact that Albiol was sent off and that almost half the the game on Saturday was played with Real a man short allowed Jose to land another jab with a “just once I would like to play them 11 against 11,” comment post-game.)
However, it really kicked off with a press conference he attended but refused to speak at last week. His silence precipitated a walk out by petulant journalists and that became the story.
Then there was the pointed criticism from Xavi, Johan Cruyff and Real legend Alfredo di Stefano of Real Madrid’s timid and defensive tactics after the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu. “Madrid did not want to play,” ” this game confirmed that Jose Mourinho is a negative coach,” and “Barcelona were a lion and Madrid a mouse,” were some of the better quotes after Saturday match.
By Monday you would have thought that we might have got down to thinking and talking about tonight’s final in Valencia but no. Instead we all became interested in Mourinho’s childrens’ education.
Reserving spots for his kids at a school within an hour’s drive of Inter’s training ground led to claims that Mourinho was heading back to Inter and that he would quit Madrid at the end of the season.
But Mourinho is absolutely oblivious to the controversy and headlines as he plays soccer journalists and reporters like a cheap guitar. Oblivious perhaps but still intentional.
He has pulled these stunts so many times but just like a defender who watches the man and not the ball at his feet we are focused on the wrong thing.
While we are reading and talking and arguing about Mourinho, the Real Madrid players are preparing without the full glare of the world’s soccer media on them.
There were things that Real Madrid did quite poorly on Saturday but there was also many things that they did well and many that will have rejuvinated the team’s confidence.
After losing so heavily to Barcelona at the end of last season and trailing in their wake throughout the domestic league season it was vital that Real put in a strong performance.
Barcelona may have dominated possession but Real Madrid’s display after going down 1-0 and having to play a man short was a sign that just like at Porto, Inter and Chelsea, the players are now buying into the Jose Mourinho school of self belief.
Is the great illusionist doing it again?
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