What next for Real Madrid?

Six months ago, Real Madrid were the cream of the crop. Granted, a semi final penalty shoot out exit at the hands of Bayern Munich wasn’t the ideal ending to their Champions League dream, but having usurped Barcelona at the summit of La Liga, it was all turning up pretty for Los Blancos.

They certainly impressed on the way to their 32nd Primera Division title, dropping just 14 points all season, mustering the highest points total, wins and largest goals scored record in the history of the illustrious league.

Fast forward to the present day and it couldn’t have been a more contrasting turn of events for Jose Mourinho and his side. Heading into the winter break, Real have already dropped an astonishing 18 points this year, following the 3-2 defeat at the hands of Malaga, leaving them 16 points behind fierce rivals Barcelona at the summit of the table.

This saw Mourinho concede defeat in the title race amidst reports that the loss to Los Boquerones was to be his final in charge of the Madrid giants. While the Portuguese tactician still remains at the helm of the club, his position is coming under increased scrutiny, regardless of what some may think.

His first battle upon his hiring in 2010 was to rid the club of Jorge Valdano. The Argentine striker returned to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in 2009 as Presidential Aide of Real Madrid, following the beginning of Florentino Perez’s second term at the club.

He played a significant role in the sackings of Juande Ramos and Manuel Pellegrini, now in charge of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Malaga respectively, before encountering Mourinho. A deterioration in relationship between Valdano and Mourinho and his coaching staff saw the former removed of his duties when in the past in would’ve been the latter.

One battle overcome should’ve seen Los Blancos push on, but while they secured domestic glory; it’s their pursuit of the Champions League that has fans salivating from the mouth like a rabies-infected dog.

Real haven’t landed the coveted European trophy since Zinedine Zidane rippled Hans Jorg Butt’s net with a sumptuous volley from the edge of the area in the 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen. The closest they have come to reaching the final since that night at Hampden Park has been three semi final appearances – the aforementioned penalty shoot-out defeat Bayern and losses to Juventus and Barcelona 2003 and 2011, respectively.

It’s this insatiable need to secure “La Decima” – the 10th European title – that captain Iker Casillas, who was controversially left out of the defeat to Malaga last weekend, has previously admitted he would happily see Real end the domestic campaign 25 points behind the league leaders if it meant winning the Champions League again.

This is likely to be where Mourinho’s attention will switch after surrendering the Primera Division to Barcelona. The 49-year-old is driven to land another European winners medal following success with FC Porto and Inter Milan and in process become only the third manager to do so.

Undeniably, his fascination with the Champions League will see domestic form stutter somewhat – just look at Chelsea last season. Many believe it is the drive for continental success that will keep him in the position, until the end of the season at least.

While Perez is likely to be unhappy about the approach, especially with city rivals Atletico Madrid seven points ahead of Real, he too will be keen to end the 11 year wait to be crowned champions of Europe.

With Manchester United standing between them a place in the quarter finals, the fact that the Madrid giants have to travel to Old Trafford for the second leg will only increase the difficulty, regardless of the result the last time the two teams met almost 10 years ago.

Either way, Mourinho’s focus will undoubtedly switch to the Champions League, no matter how many points Barcelona or Atletico will drop between now and May. It’s his determination to make history and for Real to win La Decima that will ensure his attention is on European duties rather than La Liga once the season resumes in the New Year.