Mourinho fumes as lethargic Madrid struggle to shake holiday hangover

Aside from eye-poking, mumbling, slouching, wearing body-warmers and being a prolific conspiracy theorist, José Mourinho's one defining characteristic as a manager is that he doesn’t tend to openly criticise his players. Other than Karim ‘the pussy cat’ Benzema.

So anyone who hadn’t caught Real Madrid’s first half display against Málaga in Tuesday's Copa del Rey clash would have realised that the forces of Mordor must have been absolutely rotten for forty-five minutes, given that the Madrid manager admitted “if I could have, I would have changed eleven players [at half-time]".

Instead, Mourinho brought on three newbies after going into the break 2-0 down in the Santiago Bernabeu, thanks to two identical headed goals from corners. It was a triple change which worked a treat and transformed a lethargic, lackadaisical side “with no tension” and clearly still on their holidays into a bustling busy-body, Benzema-inspired outfit which scored three goals to give Madrid the advantage in next Tuesday’s second leg in Málaga.

Mourinho threw another titbit to the press by suggesting that some of his players may have been a little too festive during the winter break, a rest that the Portuguese is not exactly a big fan of. “Some use their holidays to rest, other use it for constant travel, having fun and eating at their father’s house, their aunt’s and their grandmother’s.”

This has, of course, lead to a tremendous guessing game in Spain - well, in LLL’s household anyway - in trying to identify the guilty culprits. Marca helped things along a little bit by publishing photographs of Cristiano Ronaldo playing with dolphins in the Maldives, Kaká in Dubai and Iker Casillas in a bar surrounded by friends and one or two beer bottles. “The Christmas album that Mourinho did not like,” stirred the paper.

There was no such controversy for Goody Two Shoes, sort-of sponsored by UNICEF Barcelona, of course, with the European champions all tucked up in bed - by scantily-clad supermodels, no doubt - before 10pm, having knocked four past Osasuna in their first leg cup clash on Wednesday, setting up the all too real possibility of two more Clásicos in January in the next round. Huzzah...

Pep’s Dream Boys were one of the few Primera clubs to put in a proper evening’s work in the cup. Racing Santander managed to lose 2-0 to Segunda B side, Mirandés, whose main striker works in a bank. Athletic Bilbao were held to a goalless draw by Andrés Iniesta’s Albacete and the mighty Real Madrid-slaying Alcorcón beat Levante 2-1. The Copa del Rey being as it is, all three top flight sides have the chance to correct their mistakes next week in their home legs. 

The best tie of the lot takes place on Thursday evening, as Valencia host Sevilla in a battle of two teams likely to be taking the tournament very seriously indeed. Unai Emery is especially up for the game, sensing “connotations of life and death” in the two-legged clash, making the Valencia man one of the few working up a sweat over the competition at this relatively early stage.