Real Madrid travelled to the beautiful island of Mallorca yesterday, but sadly they won't have much time to lie around on the beach: arch-rivals FC Barcelona handily qualified for the next round of the Copa Del Rey, and they are set to square off against José Mourinho's boys next week in a much-anticipated Clásico rematch. But of course Real Madrid isn't thinking about that. I mean, why else would Mourinho announce in a press conference that he isn't thinking about it? But I digress, as I'm sure many of us will in the coming week.
And just like that, I overlooked the whole point of this article: previewing Real Madrid's match against Real Mallorca tonight. You see how easy that is? The problem I just faced--looking forward to the Clásico--will be Real Madrid's biggest obstacle as they take the pitch in Palma de Mallorca. They haven't lost on the island since 2006, a match that effectively ended Florentino Pérez's first tenure a club President.
Since then, Madrid have been ruthless against a side that has traditionally been a stumbling block (remember those matches back in 2002 when Samuel Eto'o torched los merengues? I definitely do), with their only slip-up coming in 2009, when they lost 1-3 in the Bernabéu. But, traditionally, Palma de Mallorca has been a tough place to play: the crowd is fantastic, the weather can be tricky (that 2006 match was notable partly because of the completely flooded pitch), and Mallorca has always been a resilient, and well-organized squad. Last year, Mourinho's hastily constructed side drew 0-0 in his first game (incidentally, that match featured Sergio Canales' starting debut over Mesut Özil--it's not exactly the same Real Madrid side now).However, over the past few years, Mallorca has been on a downward slop, like much of the Liga BBVA. They've slid down the tables, and have found themselves in that Catch-22 area of not being good enough to contend for anything at all (not even top 15), and not bad enough to give the fanbase an exciting relegation battle. Their biggest matches are when Barcelona and Real Madrid roll in to town.
Having said all this, Real Madrid's biggest enemies tonight will be their own minds: they are a much more talented side than Mallorca, and have enough depth at every position to run out a C-level lineup and still outclass almost every Primera side. Even with Ángel Di María, Sami Khedira and Hamit Altintop sidelined with injuries (calm down, Di Maria will be ready for Barcelona, though we're not expecting Khedira to make a full recovery in time, and do you really care about Hamit Altintop?), José Mourinho will still be able to rest a good chunk of his ideal lineup in preparation for Barcelona. I'd expect to see Gonzalo Higuain replace in-form Karim Benzema, while Nuri Sahin, Kaká, and Callejón should all see some pitch time.
This will not be a game about talent; it'll be about Madrid's motivation. Will Mourinho strike the right balance of resting key players in preparation for Barcelona, while convincing everyone else to play with abandon? Or will we see an anemic Real Madrid side saunter on to the pitch expecting to win?
My gut tells me that Mourinho knows how important this Liga is. It's Madrid's competition to lose, especially after Barcelona's 1-1 draw at Espanyol last weekend, and Mourinho must know that this is his best option for a title this season. If I had to choose a scenario, I'd bet that he knows how to strike the right chord with his players: in many ways, this match is even more important than next week's Clásico.
But that's the question, right? Will Madrid come out motivated and strong? Or will they mail it in in preparation for Barça? We'll see tonight in Palma de Mallorca (20:00 CET, GolTV, Canal+ Liga).