Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughMadrid's Real Challenge begins - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Madrid's Real Challenge begins - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Madrid’s Real Challenge begins

Now it’s crunch time. Now it’s time to prepare and get ready for business. You wouldn’t think it, but now it is. Ten points clear. The league title in the bag; they even have “some room for error”. It’s time for to go for the big one. The Big Ears Trophy. Because without it, does it really matter?

This weekend, Real Madrid will host Racing Santander at the Santiago Bernabeu to maintain their lead over arch rivals Barcelona in La Liga. Weekly, these sorts of games would draw an unwanted amount of pressure; being the nature of La Liga, where ‘drawing’ is now the new ‘losing’. Yet, with one hand on the La Liga trophy, Madrid can now focus on the big one. The Big Ears Trophy.

Enter CSKA Moscow. Three days after the Racing clash, Madrid will fly to Russia to commence their challenge. From 2003 to 2010, Real never made it pass the Round of 16. In the second coming of the Galaticos in 2010, with Cristano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Kaka leading the line, they still failed to progress. Except last season.

Last season was different. The arrival of Jose Mourinho sparked the revival of the Spanish giants. Everyone knows about their epic semi-final clash with Barcelona. Everyone knows the outcome. But as Mourinho has said before “I always say that the second season is better”. He’s right of course. Look at his second season at Inter. Just look now at his second season at Real Madrid. There is no questioning that Madrid has been the better team this season. They have played better than Barcelona. The one thing is that they can’t beat Barcelona.

This is where the challenge for the Bigs Ears has never been more important and never the pressure has been higher. Why is that, if Madrid are leading the title race and playing better? Simple, because this is the Barcelona team that everyone says is the greatest ever. So even if Madrid won the league, Barcelona can conquer Europe (where they won 3-1 at Bayer Leverkusen), not to mention win the Copa del Rey (where they play in the Athletico Bilbao in the final) which results in some thoughts: so what if Madrid won the league, if Barcelona are the kings of Europe? So what, if Madrid rule La Liga if they can’t beat the Catalans?

This is why the challenge has never been more important. This is why, the Ronaldos, the Ozils, the Kakas, the Di Marias need to lift their game. It’s easy playing against the Sportings, the Racings, the Malagas every week, but in Europe it’s all about being the beating the best. This season’s European challenge might look a little weaker than it has over the last couple of the seasons.

There is no Manchester United; no heavy spenders in Manchester City; Arsenal are all but finished; Chelsea are in transition; the Italian giants Milan and Inter are not the team they were in the past. So who can realistically win? Bayern is that dark horse, but they can’t even dominate the Bundesliga. Maybe Zenit or Benfica? Lyon or Marseille? No, there has never been a better chance for Real to win. Don’t win the trophy and it could all go very pear shaped.

Rumours are rife with Mourinho planning a summer departure. Mourinho hasn’t denied them, instead telling the press “I think you should know my answer”. Why would he want to leave one of the biggest clubs in football? The reason that is rumoured is that he’s sick of the press, sick of their rumours, sick of their disbelief in his methods. Mourinho has brought success for Madrid; he’s made them an elite unit. But if he doesn’t win Europe, what would the press say then? For each Madrid loss, the press mounts a campaign against him. For each loss to Barcelona, the campaigns gain momentum.

This is why, claiming the Big Ears Trophy is of the upmost importance for all parties concerned. If Mourinho gets the victory, he’ll be a hero to all Madristas. What could the press say to him then? If they lose, expect the press to hound him. Imagine more so, if Barcelona won it again? Losing Mourinho would be the biggest blow to Madrid. Just look at the Porto, Inter and Chelsea after he departed.

Never has the pressure being higher than right now for the Madrid camp. They are in a prime position to win it. If they are lucky they could avoid Barcelona completely. Barcelona in turn, may not even make it that to final. Who guarantees that Real will be in the final anyhow?  Winning the league might be enough for Madristas. It might not be enough for Mourinho. Can they withstand the pressure and take the Europe’s crown. They have too: Barcelona are waiting in the wings.

Andrew Bishara

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