Not one to live in anybody’s shadow, Real Madrid coach José Mourinho is determined to draw the attention away from rivals Barcelona and onto his own side as they continue towards their goal of winning a tenth Champions League title.
The Portuguese tactician famously led Porto to European club football’s greatest prize in 2004, the year Madrid last managed to advance past the first knockout round. Then, last season, Inter Milan ended a 45-year wait to lift the famous trophy at the Santiago Bernabéu, with Mourinho credited for the Nerazzurri’s tactical astuteness in reaching the final.
The immediate mission now for the 48-year-old is to steer Real Madrid into the last eight when they host Olympique Lyonnais on Wednesday. The visitors ended Madrid’s Champions League dreams last season but, after a 1-1 first leg draw in France, the odds this time favour the hosts, who have nothing to fear according to their coach.
“My team are not afraid of recent history; statistics exist so that we can go out and contradict them,” Mourinho said of the challenge facing his side. “Sure [Lyon] have quality, but we must eliminate them. I’ve already done that [with Porto] on my way to winning the tournament.”
The coach’s belief also flows through his players, with captain Iker Casillas insisting that he and his team-mates are thinking only of “going out there to win this tie”. Confidence comes from results and Madrid supporters have had no cause for complaint in Europe this season. The nine-time European champions finished eight points clear of runners-up AC Milan in the group stage with a defensive record second only to that of Manchester United.
Players are also hitting form at the right time, with Karim Benzema firing both goals against Hércules after scoring his 100th senior goal in the first leg. Meanwhile Cristiano Ronaldo, who is expected to recover from a thigh injury to play on Wednesday, has managed 40 goals in 44 appearances for club and country in 2010/11.
Describing attacking midfielder Mesut Özil’s arrival at the club as “a fantastic piece of business”, Mourinho has likewise been enthralled by the German international’s impact. Fresh from two sublime assists in last weekend’s 3-1 victory at Real Racing Club, the 22-year-old found himself fending off comparisons with the great Zinédine Zidane. There has also been high praise for wide midfielder Ángel di María, whose seven goals and 17 goal assists in all competitions have earned the Noodle – so called because of his slight frame – a menacing reputation.
Mourinho is not the only man at the club to have held the European Cup aloft either; Xabi Alonso, Kaká, Casillas, Ricardo Carvalho, Ronaldo and Jerzy Dudek also know what it takes to reach the summit of the continental game.
Experience combined with talent and desire make for a mouth-watering mix in any side, so, as they look to wrestle the world’s attention away from their Catalan rivals, can Madrid go all the way and win ‘La Décima’ at Wembley in May?