"It's a trap!" yelled Admiral Ackbar as the rebel fleet descended on a fully armed and operational second Death Star. Don't you love how everything in life--sports, politics, love--can be traced back to a scene in Star Wars? Well, I do. And yes, it's because I'm a huge geek. But bear with me.
It's week 21 in the Spanish Liga BBVA, and Real Madrid are leading arch-rivals FC Barcelona by a comfortable seven points; to cement their lead, los blancos have to take as many points from the second half of the season as they did from the first (they lost twice and drew once). If they can do that, then, barring a major change in Barça's attitude, they'll win la Liga. This week presents a pretty easy to understand dilemma: win, or suddenly you'll start seeing "Barcelona's coming back!!!" headlines and "Mourinho OUT" banners.
As it always is in Madrid, winning is the only option. A loss will bring out all the problems that seemed so dire after los merengues' loss in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal tie with Barcelona: Marca and As will run feature after feature about how the Spaniards don't like the Portuguese, about how Mourinho is leaving, and about how Madrid's dressing room is "divided" because of [insert made-up reason].
This is how it's going to be every single day until the end of the season. So why is this game in particular a trap?Well, it's not all that complicated really: Barcelona has been on a "terrible" (read: three straight draws to good teams...the horror) run that has allowed Madrid to escape (to a certain degree) in the race for la Liga. This is particularly important now, because Madrid are coming off a hard-fought victory against Zaragoza, and might be ready for an easy ride against Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.
The problem is that Getafe has never been an easy ride (well, not away from the Bernabéu that is), and have managed to take 15 points out of 16 matches from Madrid. Mourinho has never beaten Luís García (Getafe's coach) at the Coliseum. Plus, Getafe has taken 20 points out of a possible 30 over their last 10 matches, and are on a roll towards European contention. This is no slouch of a team.
Plus, Madrid is dealing with significant injuries to some of their most important players: Xabi Alonso's presence is still iffy and Angel Di Maria, Sami Khedira, Ricardo Carvalho, Hamit Altintop and Marcelo are not on the list (for one reason or another).
Oh, and did I mention that there's a cold front stretching all the way down from Siberia covering most of Spain? It was 34 degrees Fahrenheit in Cádiz today (that's on the south coast!)? It's likely to get down past freezing in Madrid tonight. It's so cold that Iker Casillas made headlines today by suggesting that all the games be moved earlier in the day to let the players play at a better temperature.
It's going to be a slog out there, no doubt about it. It's at moments like these where you have to have a lot of faith both in the coach and in the players (and the medical staff) to make it though; it's moments like these when some ordinary players become champions...and others become also-rans.
Let's hope this Madrid squad is the former. It'll be a long, cold night otherwise.