x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Europe is Real Madrid's sanctuary

Jose Mourinho defiant after a thrashing in el clasico, and now the focus switches to the Champions League for Madrid.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, left, celebrates scoring against Valencia with teammates Lassana Diarra and Pepe. 

Victor R Caivano / AP Photo
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, left, celebrates scoring against Valencia with teammates Lassana Diarra and Pepe. Victor R Caivano / AP Photo

Real Madrid's recovery following the humiliation of their 5-0 thrashing by Barcelona started straight after the game.

With his players still reeling in the Camp Nou dressing room, Jose Mourinho wasted no time in speaking honestly to the media, where he ducked no question and spoke magnanimously about Barcelona.

He has proved doubters wrong before and Mourinho will taste further success.

As the Spanish media - even elements in Madrid - exalted Barca's brilliance, the wounded Real players apologised to their shell-shocked followers for their conduct and performance.

Mourinho's team were simply not supposed to be destroyed by Barca.

His charges talked emotively about their pride in the shirt and the club's badge being hurt.

Sergio Ramos, who lost his temper with several of the Barca players who happen to also be Spanish international teammates and was sent off at Camp Nou - actions for which he later apologised - said: "We need to pick ourselves up and stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Not to do so would be a mistake."

Real vowed to resume their impressive form before el clasico and did that with a 2-0 victory over a Valencia side unbeaten in their previous five games.

Traditionally tough opponents for Real, Valencia were obstinate enough to hold out for 75 minutes and it took Cristiano Ronaldo, anonymous in the 5-0 defeat apart from when he shoved Pep Guardiola, the Barca coach, scored twice in the last 15 minutes to make it 42 goals from 41 Primera Liga games.

Ronaldo's tally is 16 league goals so far this season - one more than Lionel Messi.

Their closest challengers for the top scorer's award, Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente and the Villarreal pair Nilmar and Guiseppe Rossi, have yet to reach double figures.

The key to Mourinho's current thinking was in the detail against Valencia. Despite Gonzalo Higuain, last season's top scorer, being out for two months with a slipped disc, Karim Benzema did not start, leading to speculation that Mourinho will be looking for another striker.

Higuain is not their only injury worry with Sergio Canales, the 19-year-old striker, out for a month with a twisted ankle.

At least Kaka, sidelined since a knee injury in August, was back on the training pitches at the weekend.

Mourinho is on a three-man shortlist to take Fifa's World Coach of the Year for 2010 for his achievements with former club Inter Milan. He is up against Guardiola and Vicente Del Bosque, the Spain coach, but he will not be on the bench for tonight's final Champions League Group G game at home to Auxerre.

The Portuguese coach was fined €40,000 (Dh194,800) and is banned, while four of his players were fined by Uefa over allegations that Ramos and Xabi Alonso deliberately provoked red cards in their last Champions League match against Ajax.

Real have already qualified for the final 16 knock-out stage as group winners ahead of AC Milan, Ajax and tonight's opponents, who they beat 1-0 away in September. Auxerre could finish third if they win and Ajax fail to beat Milan away.

Real boast four wins and a draw so far in Europe and Sami Khedira, the midfielder, is convinced this season's Champions League winner will come from this group. Rather than thinking about winning the competition, Mourinho's first major task is to take Real beyond the last 16 stage for the first time in six seasons.

Europe is of vital importance to Mourinho because after the humiliation against Barca, the league is no longer in Real's hands.

It might seem premature stating so in December when there are so many games still to play, but Guardiola has won all five clasicos against Real and there is a sense that his team are far superior to their rivals.

That means the one way Mourinho can redeem himself would be by winning the Champions League in his first season at the Bernabeu. Real did not look like European champions against Barca, but the cup format of the Champions League has favoured Mourinho before and he will seek his fortune in it once again.


11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +9