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The Libero - Supreme Madrid look the Real deal

Published: 24 Nov 2010 - 09:06:20

Back in September, at the beginning of the Champions League group stage, this column extolled the virtues of Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid.That was just a few days after his side were booed off the pitch after a particularly uninspiring 1-0 win over Osasuna, yet there was still enough there, enough talent in his squad and in his own locker, to make a mockery of those cat calls.

Madrid fans should have known better. Since then, starting with the 2-0 win over Ajax that followed the boos, pretty much everything has gone Mourinho and Madrid's way. A goalless draw with Levante and another stalemate at Real Murcia in the Cup aside, Real have swept all before them.

To date, they sit atop the league, unbeaten in 12 games with 10 wins under their belt, and they are into the knockout phase of the Champions League, having secured their safe passage with two games to spare. Add in a date in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey, for what it's worth.To put it another way, they have been simply irresistible so far this season.

Proof - only really needed for those who had the temerity and short-sightedness to boo that evening at the Bernabeu - was provided in the starkest possible fashion last night in their second victory over Ajax this season.

Real blew Ajax off the park. Martin Jol had no answer tactically to Mourinho and the Dutchman's players were no match on the pitch for the men in dark blue. Up front, Cristiano Ronaldo showed the kind of devastating, scary form that made him the Ballon d'Or winner two years ago while Karim Benzema, usually a serial underachiever, followed up his goal at Wembley for France with another expertly-taken strike to complement a display full of menace, pace and power - the kind which he used to put in week in, week out at Lyon.

Providing the ammunition for that pair's bombardment of Ajax's sorry defences were the impressively tricky Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso, with his pinpoint radar and phenomenal passing range.Anchoring Real's forward play was Lassana Diarra, once considered surplus to requirements at Chelsea and Arsenal, but now proving he can cut it on the biggest stage with a destroying performance of which his countryman Claude Makelele would have been proud.

At the back, Marcelo continued to prove his considerable talent at left-back, with Sergio Ramos on the other flank again impeccable. Alongside the dominant Raul Albiol, even Liverpool cast-off Alvaro Arbeloa looked the part.And in goal, Iker Cassilas had nothing to do for the majority of the evening, but the one time he was called into action, he pulled a save right out of the top drawer to preserve his clean sheet.

In short, with the exception of the poor Angel Di Maria and those two controversial late red cards, Real were to a man pretty much perfect.Ajax may not have posed the biggest threat Real will face this season, but even without the injured Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain, Real made winning a Champions League game look as easy as taking a sweet from a child.

Mourinho must take some of the credit for that, but so too can players like Ronaldo who, if he can maintain this kind of form, surely has what it takes to end the club's barren patch in Europe.Nine years is far too long for Real Madrid not to have won a European pot, especially considering the hefty investment in the team, but on Tuesday's showing there is a strong suggestion that the wait could be over by May next year.

Madridistas should certainly hope so, and not just for that oh-so-sweet short-term gratification that winning silverware brings; should another year pass without success in Europe, Mourinho's position will come under yet further scrutiny. Even if that does not emanate from the corridor of power at the Bernabeu, the man himself may opt to jump ship.

He suggested earlier in the week that perhaps Carlo Ancelotti has already overstayed his welcome at Chelsea, like he had before he was unceremoniously booted out of Stamford Bridge. He would be loath to make the same mistake again.

Either way, losing Mourinho would be a hammer blow to a club that finally looks like they are going places. They have the squad, the manager and the backing to conquer all before them this season. And they have no choice but to succeed.

It is that heady mix of talent and motivation that could well combine to spur them on to return to the pinnacle of European football once again.DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.

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