As a campaign that promised so much at the outset draws to a close, Real Madrid have added only the Spanish Supercopa to their collection of silverware since landing the Primera title so convincingly last season. Hopes of another League title and a 10th Champions League success crumbled with Barcelona winning La Liga at a canter and Spain’s top two usurped as Europe’s finest by their German counterparts.
It has been another difficult year for Mourinho both on and off the pitch, with his likely departure a constant talking point. Friday’s domestic Cup final against Atletico Madrid represents the last chance for the idiosyncratic Portuguese Coach to collect one final trophy ahead of his predicted Bernabeu exit. If Los Blancos do overcome their neighbours it will be their 19th Copa success, the most recent in 2010-11 when they beat Barcelona.
With home advantage and an often free-scoring attack at his disposal, Mourinho will expect goals from his players to grace the domestic showpiece. Cristiano Ronaldo, himself a subject of controversy and allegations of ingratitude and discontent, has bagged 34 in La Liga so far this term, but Madrid are not a one-man team. Gonzalo Higuain with 14 goals, Karim Benzema with 10, Mesut Ozil nine and Angel Di Maria seven have also been consistently on target.
It is in defence that Mourinho could be struggling for options. Raphael Varane is out for the rest of the season with a knee problem and Alvaro Arbeloa is battling a back strain, whilst Pepe is in bad odour for criticising his Coach’s treatment of Iker Casillas. With a question mark also against Marcelo and Sergio Ramos’ fitness, Raul Albiol and Ricardo Carvalho could form part of an unlikely defensive line this week.
Form dictates that Los Merengues are favourites ahead of Friday’s clash, with Los Colchoneros having failed to beat them for the past 14 years and Los Blancos winning 13 of the last 14 games between the two. Ronaldo and Ozil were both on target in December when Los Blancos won 2-0 at the Bernabeu and, although Radamel Falcao gave Atleti an early lead at the Vicente Calderon in April, a Juanfran own goal and Di Maria’s winner saw Madrid to a 2-1 victory.
Despite having sat in second place, ahead of Mourinho’s men, for much of the season, Diego Simeone’s Atletico side will consider their third-place finish in La Liga an outstanding achievement, particularly after difficult campaigns under a procession of Coaches in recent years. Atleti also do have an excellent Cup pedigree of late, winning the Europa League under Quique Flores in 2009-10 with a 2-1 win over Roy Hodgson’s Fulham and again last season, with Simeone overseeing a 3-0 triumph against Athletic Bilbao.
One feature of the form guide that Los Rojiblancos might take comfort from is that the two sides have met four times in the Copa final, with Atletico winning three. The last of those was back in 1992 and that was also at the Bernabeu, with Atleti winning 2-0. Most consider victory on Friday unlikely, but if Simeone’s men do prevail, it will represent their first major domestic honour since winning the Copa in 1995-96, when they beat Barcelona.
Much of Atletico’s success this season has been due to the prolific striker Falcao. Aside from scoring 28 of his team’s 62 Primera goals, the Colombian has been a talismanic figure for Atleti, but his success could well herald his departure in the summer.
Diego Costa, likely to partner Falcao in attack, has also been among the goals with eight in the Primera and three in the 4-3 aggregate Copa semi-final win over Sevilla. Such is the weight of expectation of a victory for Los Blancos on Friday, however, that anything other than a virtuoso performance from Falcao is likely to leave the final with only one possible winner.