THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Champions League is only aim this season

icon realramos13 February ~ You might think Real Madrid's season so far has been an absolute disaster. Last season's La Liga champions have already lost at Getafe, Sevilla, Betis, Málaga and Granada. José Mourinho's side are 16 points adrift of Barcelona in the domestic table and somehow third in Spain's supposed two-horse race, also trailing their city rivals Atlético Madrid. In Europe they were outclassed by German champions Borussia Dortmund and only the ineptitude of Manchester City kept them in the Champions League.

Meanwhile Mourinho has been rowing with all and sundry – the local media, the club's youth-team coach, his own fans and a list of Madrid players which now includes Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Ángel Di María, Fábio Coentrão, Marcelo, Mesut Özil and even Cristiano Ronaldo. Then there's the injuries. Goalkeeper Casillas broke his hand last month and Sami Khedira, Marcelo, Álvaro Arbeloa, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuaín and Pepe have all missed chunks of the season.

From a certain perspective though, none of what has gone wrong so far this season really matters. Furthermore most of it, including injuries, has actually been positive. Madrid's players began the season resting on their laurels after taking the La Liga title from Barcelona. Egos in the dressing room, especially Spanish World Cup winning ones, had grown too big. Madrid supporters in the media and Bernabéu were not sufficiently impressed with the toppling of Pep Guardiola's Barça. Even club president Florentino Pérez needed reminding who was in charge.

So the "creative destruction" policy of recent months was actually a cunning plan. Retaining La Liga was never the real aim for this season. It was always about La Décima, the fabled tenth European Cup, which Madrid's fans, players and pundits have now awaited for ten years. This was the year to really go for it; Ronaldo is at his peak, Guardiola off the scene, English and Italian clubs weak.

Now – ahead of tonight's last-16 first leg at the Bernabéu against Manchester United – you can argue that policy is actually working. Ronaldo has eight goals in six games since rowing with Mourinho in mid-January. Özil is in superb nick. Ramos is as committed as ever. Khedira, Higuaín and Benzema needed a break. Casillas's replacement Diego López has impressed in goal. The whirlwind 5-0 win in Valencia a fortnight ago showed what is possible.

Retain that intensity and motivation and Manchester United will be swept aside. The "creative destruction" argument will quickly become a general consensus, La Décima will be secured and Mourinho will be the Special One again. If not, well, he has a good agent. Dermot Corrigan

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