Real, Atletico prepare for Bernabeu Cup final

Madrid, May 16 (IANS) Real Madrid take on rivals Atletico Madrid this Friday night in the final of the Copa del Rey in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu knowing that failure to defeat their neighbours will condemn their season to be considered as an abject failure.

Real go into the game after having failed to reach the final of the Champions League while in La Liga they currently sit 10 points behind league champions FC Barcelona, who have a game in hand and could open that gap to a humiliating 13 points over the weekend, reports Xinhua.

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho arrived in the Spanish capital three years ago with the brief of knocking Barcelona off their perch as the best side in Spain but despite massive spending and a hugely expensive squad, all Mourinho has so far achieved is the 2011 Copa del Rey and the 2012 league title.

A win against Atletico would at least give some sheen to the season but defeat would leave him with just two titles in three seasons and a divided dressing room as his legacy.

Mourinho’s departure looks assured at the end of the season and the debate has shifted from whether or not he will leave to who will be his replacement. The coach will retain goalkeeper Iker Casillas on the subs’ bench for the game and continue with Diego Lopez.

Meanwhile, he has created a problem for himself with recent declarations over central defender Pepe. Pepe recently defended Casillas and paid for it by being dropped for Real’s last two games with Mourinho insisting it was not a punishment but that young central defender Rafael Varene was better.

Unfortunately Varene damaged knee ligaments last weekend leaving Mourinho with a conundrum: if his excuse for leaving Pepe out is true, then Pepe would be the logical replacement to battle against Atletico duo of Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao. However, if Pepe was dropped as a punishment, then Raul Albiol will step into the side and Mourinho will have to seek out a different excuse.

Real Madrid have the advantage of knowing that they have not lost a competitive match to Atletico since 1999 when Atletico won 3-1 in the Bernabeu. Mourinho’s side won 2-1 in Atletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium last month and will be confident of continuing their form, especially with the advantage of playing in their home ground, even though the tickets have been split 50-50 between fans.

Atletico point to the fact that they beat Real in the final of the 1992 Cup and they did so in the Bernabeu. Indeed Real Madrid don’t have a great record in Cup finals played in the Bernabeu and football fans all over Spain remember how Deportivo la Coruna ruined the club’s centenary by beating Real 2-1 in the Bernabeu.

With both sides favouring a counter-attacking style of play and looking to keep the game tight in defence and midfield, with the added emotion of it being a derby, this could be a tense game.

Atletico have the tightest defence in Spain while it will be interesting to see if Mourinho’s defence is up to the challenge but everything points to this being a game changed by one moment of brilliance. Whether that moment is provided by Falcao or Cristiano Ronaldo is the decisive question.

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