Few will forget the effort and dedication put forth by Real Madrid’s players on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. For a few anxiety-inducing minutes, what once seemed to be an impossible sporting feat almost became a reality. Sadly, the football gods had other plans and Real Madrid failed to advance to the Champions League final for a third consecutive time.
This season, we fans have complained that our favorite team has often looked unmotivated, disinterested and all-around sloppy in the league. We know what Real Madrid is capable of, and Tuesday’s epic clash against Dortmund only solidified our belief that this team is a force to be reckoned with when it plays to its potential. The fact Real Madrid gifted its league crown to Barcelona as early as last fall is truly hard to stomach.
Barcelona currently sits eleven points ahead of Real Madrid with five games remaining in La Liga. While it seems close to impossible that Madrid will snatch the crown away from the Catalans this month, Madrid needs to continue playing to the best of its ability. Madridistas want more of what they saw on Tuesday. Yes, it’s different playing a Manchester United or Borussia Dortmund than a Real Valladolid, but Real Madrid is the greatest club in the world and its players should live up to that billing via their performance on the pitch.
In Friday's pre-game press conference, Jose Mourinho seized the opportunity to address some of the question marks regarding his future while making it very clear that the press neither pressures nor influences his decision-making process. Here is my translation of some of Jose's best bits:
Mourinho on his exit:
"It is not worth talking about whether I am leaving or staying. And if I do leave, it won't be to you that I give my reasons for either staying or going. I've always left clubs on good terms- even Chelsea, which at the time seemed controversial, wasn't what it appeared to be. At none of the clubs I've departed will you find negative words about me. In fact, the opposite is true. And the day that I leave here- whenever that may be- won't be any different."
Mourinho on his Real Madrid success (once again drawing on a small piece of paper for reference):
"The record-breaking Liga is mine. You all will want to erase that but you won't be able to. It will take another team to surpass that and we'll see how long that takes. Twenty years without winning a Copa del Rey, well that's because it's not easy. And we have won a Copa del Rey after twenty years, which you also won't be able to erase. The Supercup is tiny, but the three Champions League semifinals, which don't feed my ego nor satisfy me, cannot be easy and here's why- Toshack, Di Stéfano, Antic, Beenhakker, Benito Floro, Arsenio Iglesias, Capello, Heynckes, Hiddink, Del Bosque, Queiroz, Camacho, García Remón, Luxemburgo, López Caro, de nuevo Capello, Juan de Ramos, Schuster and Pellegrini- 18 coaches in 21 years and only 5 Champions League semifinals. But Mourinho's failing is three semifinals in three years."
Real Madrid's manager was clearly prepared to tackle the fickle Spanish press and took no prisoners with his direct, straightforward and sometimes sarcastic answers.
Valladolid is in twelfth-place with a total of 40 points. They’ve essentially escaped the threat of relegation and are coming to the Bernabeu with little to lose. Last time these two teams met, Valladolid striker Manucho scored twice before Mesut Ozil's free kick in the 71st minute guaranteed Los Blancos a 3-2 victory away from home. Manager Miroslav Djukic is eager to face Real Madrid and expects his team to rise to the challenge. In speaking to Spanish daily As, Djukic said his team will be aggressive and try to retain the ball. Perhaps this strategy will play into the hands of los Vikingos, but regardless, Real Madrid will certainly try to take the match to their rivals in front of the Bernabéu faithful.
Here are the players Jose Mourinho has called up for Saturday's game:
Goalkeepers: Casillas, Diego López and Jesús.
Defenders: Varane, Pepe, Coentrão, Carvalho and Nacho
Midfielders: Khedira, Kaká, Özil, Xabi Alonso, Essien, Modric, Callejón and Di María
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Higuaín and Morata
Madrid's Vice-Captain Sergio Ramos injured himself against Borussia Dortmund and is expected to miss two weeks of action. Joining him on the injured list are fellow defenders Marcelo and Álvaro Arbeloa.
Managing Madrid, give us your starting line-up predictions in the comments section below!
Real Madrid kicks-off against Real Valladolid on Saturday, May 4th at 20:00 CET/ 2:00 pm EST/ 11:00 am PST.