Man City meeting could be Mourinho's make-or-break moment at Madrid

For some time now, La Liga Loca has been fashioning some kind of art-deco trinket that will function nicely as a special award for a special person.

The idea of the prize is to hand it over to José Mourinho when the Portuguese leaves Real Madrid - mid-season, so says the man in the know from El País - for his services to Spanish football writers who like time-saving, zero-substance, all hype and gossip stories as their daily filler. And LLL is very much in that category...

Tuesday's Champions League clash with Manchester City was already exciting enough in a purely footballing sense. But where's the real interest in that? English champions against Spanish champions, barometers of the different leagues, yadda, yadda, yadda. Who cares?

But Real Madrid languishing in mid-table after their worst start to the season since about 1784 - currently below Valladolid and Deportivo, no less - and facing a team with the ability to make what Sevilla did to Mourinho's men seem like a pillow fight with Natalie Portman dressed as a kitten, is proper football fodder.

Before, the world may have watched the encounter with the same clinical interest as two geneticists observing whether an amoeba would mate with a giraffe. Now the Santiago Bernabeu clash is a full-on popcorn-with-extra-space-dust event.

The match has either come at a terrible time or brilliant time, depending on what kind of Real Madrid fan you are. The Spanish capital's grumpy taxi-driver brigade - their numbers are in the high thousands - may see the arrival of Manchester City as some kind of much-needed visit from a nemesis of doom which could bring some of the players and the coach down a peg or two. A sort of Atlético Madrid, 'enjoy the pain' fatalism, if you will.

Happier shoppers like those in Marca and AS are talking up the Champions League as an antidote to the terrible disease the club is suffering from. Lazyitis perhaps. "Tonight is Champions League night," writes Mad Tomás Roncero in AS, "with the marvelous hymn that reminds us that the king of the competition was and remains Real Madrid."

"Cristiano Ronaldo will be reconciled today with a goal, both with himself and the supporters in the stands who want this so much," predicts the Madrid-crazy columnist.

Mourinho is of the same mind. In Monday's press conference the Madrid coach genuinely seemed to be enjoying the headlines and carnage he was causing with his "I have no team," complaints, but was of a completely different opinion a few days later with his prediction that "we will have a determined, compact, united team where togetherness is all important."

The result on Tuesday will, of course, have a huge bearing on the mood of the Madrid massive, with a potentially rather uncomfortable time in store for the Portuguese and his players ahead of Sunday's Rayo clash. A drubbing of the young Mancunian upstarts will go a long way towards restoring some lost confidence, and will likely encourage the punter that the title race is back on track and winning the Champions League is a certainty. A defeat and LLL will have to make Mourinho's trophy 'for services to stories that write themselves' that little bit bigger.

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