When Barcelona and Real Madrid raised the curtain for the new Spanish season in their two Supercopa meetings in August, few would have predicted that the latter would be eight points behind their great nemesis come the first week of October.
Madrid's defeats to Getafe and Sevilla compelled José Mourinho to lament he "didn't have a team" after the latter fixture. Barcelona too struggled in Seville and found themselves 2-0 down. Only they scored twice in two minutes to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat.
That won't have improved Mourinho's mood after he said he hated his social life this week. His candour irks the hierarchy in the corridors of the Bernabéu, with the club resigned to the Portuguese departing in 2016 for the Premier League. It may even be sooner.
But with Pep Guardiola now gone, Mourinho has a chance to capitalise and usher in a new era of dominance for Madrid. They have not won back-to-back titles since their 2007 and 2008 triumphs, and those successive wins were the first consecutive domestic leagues since the Leo Beenhakker and John Toshack eras.
How galling then for Mourinho that Tito Vilanova, an in-house appointment by Barça, has roared ahead of him. It may have contributed to Mourinho's frank assessment in the aftermath of the Sevilla defeat, especially since although he rankled Guardiola, he rarely got the better of him.
This Barcelona side reached their zenith with that 5-0 demolition of their rivals in November 2010 when Madrid hadn't previously lost in the league under Mourinho.
BARÇA THRASH MADRID 5-0 IN NOVEMBER, 2010
He defeated Guardiola on just two occasions out of a possible 11 on two seminal occasions. The first, was in the Copa del Rey final while the second was a 2-1 win at Camp Nou in April which effectively confirmed Los Blancos' 32nd championship.
But the 'Pep-Mou' fixtures were marred by red cards, emphatic defeats and Mourinho himself having to watch one Clásico in his hotel room because of a touchline ban after the first leg of the 2011 Champions League semi-final.
Mourinho will be maddened by the eight-point chasm when his Madrid struck what should have been a significant blow in the second leg of the Supercopa in August. Trailing 3-2 from the first leg, rarely has this great Barça side been so outplayed as they were in the first half at the Bernabéu.
MADRID WIN THE SUPERCOPA
Gonzalo Higuaín, who spurned a flurry of chances, and Cristiano Ronaldo gave Madrid a 2-0 lead but such was their dominance Barça, reduced to 10 men thanks to left-back Adriano's clumsiness, could have been forgiven for pleading for the contest to end.
But tellingly, despite how one-sided the 45 minutes were, Lionel Messi struck. A wonderful free-kick, it was the Blaugrana's first effort on goal in the 45th minute and as the contest drew to a close, it was the hosts who were hanging on to their away goals advantage.
MESSI AND RONALDO AVOID ONE ANOTHER
Carles Puyol was conspicuous by his absence that evening as Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano displayed a sieve-like watertightness. The club captain will be missing again at the weekend after he dislocated his elbow and Piqué is unlikely to start either. Ronaldo will delight in informing the whole of Spain he has scored two consecutive hat-tricks in the past week and has hit seven goals in the last eight Clásicos.
Camp Nou is an ambivalent arena for Mourinho. He has experienced the worst of times and the best of times but overseen only one win having managed three clubs at the venue.
Irrespective of the scoreline, he has always got under the cules' skin and his opponent in the dugout, be it Frank Rijkaard or Guardiola. Vilanova was added to that list before he ascended to the position of number one thanks to a poke in the eye. So now the challenge is to topple him too.
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