Real faced with off-field distractions

MADRID - Real Madrid have had to deal with a number of unwelcome distractions this week including speculation that coach Jose Mourinho was unhappy and thinking of leaving at the end of the season.

Last weekend's shock 1-1 draw at bottom club Almeria, which left them four points adrift of leaders Barcelona, was hardly the best preparation for Sunday's potentially tricky La Liga clash at home to Real Mallorca.

Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas moved to quosh the reports about Mourinho's possible exit, which came the same day the club clashed with Spain's football federation (RFEF) over an article on the RFEF website that mentioned Mourinho.

"He wants to stay and (the club) wants him to stay," World Cup winner Casillas said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

"I am saying that and I am the captain," he added. "We have a young team and he (Mourinho) knows that it can bear fruit over the long term. He is delighted with the city and with the club."

Real issued a sharply worded statement on Wednesday criticising the RFEF for what the club called a lack of respect and objectivity.

They were responding to an article saying the referee for Real's King's Cup match at Atletico on Thursday would be "under the close scrutiny of Mourinho, who feels he has been mistreated by officials in recent league matches".

The line was later removed from the piece and the RFEF said it had been written by an intern and was not official policy.

CLEAR PENALTIES

The outspoken Mourinho has been critical of some La Liga officials since joining from Inter Milan at the end of last season and on Wednesday repeated his view that Real had been denied what he felt were two clear penalties at Almeria.

He has also expressed frustration at the club's failure to find a replacement for injured striker Gonzalo Higuain and local media have reported his relationship with director general Jorge Valdano has become strained.

Mallorca, coached by former Real midfielder Michael Laudrup, will be depleted by injury and suspensions on Sunday but are no doubt hoping their opponent's off-field distractions will improve their chances of causing an upset.

The Balearic Islanders held Real to a 0-0 draw in Mallorca on the opening day of the season.

Barca booked their place in the last four of the King's Cup on Wednesday despite having their club record 28-match unbeaten run ended by second-division leaders Real Betis.

Coach Pep Guardiola, who turned 40 this week, rested a number of first-team players and although his side were beaten 3-1 on the night they went through 6-3 on aggregate and host Racing Santander in La Liga on Saturday.

"It takes a lot to go 28 matches without losing," Guardiola told a news conference. "We have to lose to appreciate things. This result shows how hard everything is and was good for putting us in our place."

Villarreal, nine points behind Real in third, host Real Sociedad on Sunday and fourth-placed Valencia, two adrift of Villarreal, are at home to Malaga on Saturday.


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