Mourinho feeling the tension of upcoming Clásico

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Tuesday was another happy day in Marca’s extreme graphics department. In previous weeks the Photoshop-wielding group had been called upon to put together an incredibly disturbing photograph that morphed together the faces of Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema to make the perfect striker. That call of duty was followed by a splendid mock-up of the French striker as Puss in Boots, complete with a cat’s face and whiskers.

Wednesday edition of the paper sees a front cover with a shot of the lower halves of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo with their arms handcuffed together. “Condemned to Win” booms Marca’s front cover ahead of Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The paper is half right, in the sense that Real Madrid are under strict orders from the fans to beat Barcelona in the Bernabeu for the first time during Pep Guardiola’s tenure at the Catalan club. But it’s fair to say Barça have more than proved themselves against Real Madrid, having only been defeated in one of the eight previous Clásicos between the Barça boss and José Mourinho.

This desire for Madrid to finally deliver at home may explain José Mourinho’s incredibly tense, bolshy mood at the pre-match press conference. Or perhaps, José Mourinho generally just being incredibly tense and bolshy is a more valid reason. When asked about the tactics for the match, the Portuguese hurled toys far and wide from his Special Pram.

“If Ramos plays at full-back, they are going to criticise me, as he’s better as a centre-back. If I play Fabio at right-back they will criticise me as he’s left-footed.” This rant against the press went on for some time, covering Sami Khedira and Pepe, among others.

“It’s better that we all go to the cinema and after let’s see the result and give our opinions.” That’s certainly what LLL would like to do.

Mourinho’s prickliest moment came when asked about Cristiano Ronaldo, who is very much the centre of attention ahead of the Clásico, precisely because the forward is hardly ever the focal point of attention during the Clásico.

“Cristiano has the final word,” yells the front cover of AS, with editor Alfredo Relaño noting that “Cristiano against his ghosts, this will be a game.” Mourinho was dutifully protective of his player warning the assembled journalists that “if any of you have a go at him we’re going to have a problem. I won’t let you.”

The performance of Ronaldo is one of the tactical topics that will be on Mourinho’s mind ahead of the game. Who to play at right-back in the absence of the suspended Alvaro Arbeloa and whether to use Angel di María for part of the game, despite not being fully recovered from injury are amongst others. At time of writing, it’s not clear if the Argentinean will even be in the squad with Real Madrid not releasing any names to the media and fans until an hour before the clash.

In comparison with the tense terseness of the Spanish capital, the Camp Nou bat-cave was a far more jolly place, with Pep Guardiola in a fairly relaxed mood, as should be expected of a manager with nothing to prove in this particular, oft-repeated tie. Though the Barça boss claimed that “I have a lot to lose, credit doesn’t exist in this sport.”

Mundo Deportivo have gone for a new angle on the match, publishing a photo of the Copa del Rey trophy itself on Wednesday’s front cover - the mangled version dropped by Sergio Ramos in front of a bus last year. “Barça, fix it!” demands the headline.

This is just one of a number of motivations the Barcelona players have to grab at least a draw in the Santiago Bernabeu before next Wednesday’s second leg clash. The others include annoying the heck of Mourinho and Madrid by frustrating them again, and perhaps equalling the number of wins in el Clásico between the two teams in the 216 matches played so far.

Madrid currently have 86, with Barça one behind. Two goals will also see Leo Messi become the striker with the most number of goals against Madrid in Barcelona’s history. All in all, there’s more than enough amuse-bouches to get the juices flowing even if the main meal hasn’t got the taste buds tingling of everyone in Spain.