After showering himself in something much smellier than glory at the start of the season, Mourinho has sculpted a team that might finally match Barcelona.
In late spring, with trophy engravers soon to earn the majority of their yearly income in a solitary month, Real Madrid lost out to arch rivals Barcelona in The Champions League and La Liga again – an all too familiar sight for the Madrid faithful in recent years. Tensions simmered in the summer and, in August, Real returned to take on their old enemies in a now notorious Spanish Super Cup game . The continued antipathy between the sides tainted the game but Jose Mourinho, never to be outdone, put the icing on the cake of wrath by allegedly yanking the ear of one of his counterparts. Noone likes even a moderately bad loser and Mourinho had positively oozed with the sour grapes that would surely leave an indelible stain on his reputation.
But 3 months can be a long time in football. Not only has Jose regained some popularity through studied humility when addressing the cameras, but he has now begun to mould a team in his preferred image. With a season at Real Madrid under his belt he has properly assessed his squad and embellished accordingly. Real already had an abundance of talent going forward but the defence was particularly generous and the midfield was the scourge of few in the big games.
In the last 18 months the Portuguese has addressed the midfield problem by incorporating German youngsters Ozil and Khedira to good effect. In this close season he supplemented the area (also adorned by Alonso and the Diarras) with Turkish midfielders Hamit Altintop from Bayern Munich and Nuri Sahin from Dortmund. So in the middle, Mourinho now boasts quality in numbers. with a good blend of exciting youth and experience.
No Mourinho team has a dodgy back line for too long and, as expected, ‘The Special One’ has also gone about solidifying his hitherto desultory defence. Last year he brought in his canny old charge Ricardo Carvalho, whilst the big money this summer went on defender Fabio Coentrao from Benfica for a fee of €30m. Real also beat Manchester United to the signing of the highly promising French defender Raphael Varane from Lens for a fee of €10m.
So we can begin to think of this team as Mourinho’s. At the weekend they battered Osasuna 7-1 in a display that showed all of their traditional attacking intent, twinned with that new found solidity in the spine of the team. Cristiano Ronaldo hit his fourth hat-trick of the season and Karim Benzema came off the bench to bag a brace, illustrating Real’s embarrassment of offensive riches – but this attacking abandon didn’t compromise their overall defensive duties, albeit against a weakish opponent.
With a solid central defensive partnership of Pepe and Coentrao working in harmony with Alonso and Khedira, who anchor the midfield, Real look an altogether more steely and assertive side in the defensive areas. The experience of Arbeloa and Ramos at full-back enhance the unit. All of which frees up Ozil to work his magic behind Higuain, Ronaldo and Di Maria, to ever increasing effect.
This team has a balance about it which is immediately recognisable. This is Mourinho’s team. Perhaps all of his anger from the last year
is about to be meted out on La Liga and in Europe so that, come May, the engravers that matter will all be etching REAL MADRID.