Real Madrid look like being crowned kings of Spain, but they need to overturn a 2-1 Champions League semi-final first-leg deficit against Bayern Munich today to continue dreaming of European glory.
Coach Jose Mourinho was lured to one of the world’s richest clubs to build a dynasty that would end Barcelona’s pre-eminence and he struck what could be a decisive blow in La Liga’s title race with a 2-1 victory over the champions at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
With a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga, Real now divert their aim to Barca’s European crown.
Mourinho’s team will need to replicate the defensive rigor and clinical finishing that did for Barca if they are to reach next month’s Champions League final in Munich, Germany.
Normally outspoken and provocative, Mourinho has recently shunned several press conferences, leaving Aitor Karanka to handle the media with anodyne responses.
The rules of European soccer’s governing body UEFA dictate that the head coach must speak to the media before the home game against Bayern.
However, the lack of controversy seems to have benefited his team, particularly ahead of El Clasico, which they won for only the second time in 11 attempts with Mourinho at the helm.
“We were able to rid ourselves of the pressure we felt in previous encounters,” Real captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas told reporters. “We have taken a big step forward. We aren’t the finished article yet, but we have given ourselves a big lift for the upcoming games.”
Leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo displayed less of the petulance that has contributed to his failure to deliver on big occasions in the past and broke away to grab the winner against Barca, his 54th goal in all competitions this season.
With Ronaldo working better as a team player, Real Madrid are confident they can maintain a 100 percent home record in this season’s competition and edge closer to a record 10th European Cup victory.
That could involve having to beat Barca again in the final if Pep Guardiola’s side overcome a 1-0 deficit at home to Chelsea in the other semi-final second-leg.
Mourinho, in his third successive Champions League semi-final, is eyeing a third triumph in Europe’s elite club competition after his victories with Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010, the latter after a 2-0 final win over Bayern at the Santiago Bernabeu.
His opposite number, the hugely experienced Jupp Heynckes, also knows the Spanish capital well having led Real to European Cup glory in 1998.
Bayern, who have won three out of four semi-finals against Real, have a slender advantage thanks to Mario Gomez’s late strike in the first leg and they arrive boosted after Franck Ribery grabbed a stoppage-time winner at Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Hours later, Borussia Dortmund sealed a second consecutive Bundesliga title that killed off any lingering hopes of an unprecedented German treble for the Bavarians.
The win over Werder was the perfect dress rehearsal if they are to achieve their ambition of playing in the Champions League final in their own stadium on May 19.
“Now we can travel to Madrid with confidence to tackle the biggest of challenges,” said former West Germany international Heynckes, who will have a full squad to choose from. “The team showed in the first leg we can play at the same level with them and we go to Madrid with a lot of confidence because we are in a position to score away from home. I am optimistic and so are my players.”