SPORT

Barcelona Vs Real Madrid Copa Del Rey Preview: José Mourinho's Daunting Week Starts At Camp Nou

26/02/2013 13:30 GMT

It had been nearly four months since a Clásico until Real Madrid hosted Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final last month, and just for good measure the football world is getting two in four days this week.

In José Mourinho's first season at the Bernabéu, Madrid played Barça four times in 13 days. People are still exhausted from the three red cards (all Madridistas - four if you include Mourinho being sent to the stands), the diving, the allegation that Sergio Busquets racially abused Marcelo, and the perceived bias afforded Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.

The Clásico now doesn't excite neutrals as much as it used to, as the curtain-raising Supercopa affairs in August confirmed, despite two exciting games. The ease in which Barça have seen off Mourinho in two of his three seasons in Spain has contributed to the disenchantment, but the frequency of the fixture has affected its aura.

The return leg at Camp Nou on Tuesday night is the most important of the duo. Barça are a mammoth 16 points clear of Madrid in La Liga, rendering Saturday's clash one of the most unimportant Clásicos in recent years. But for Mourinho it is the beginning of one of the most testing weeks of his managerial career.

jose mourinho

"Not another Clásico..."

In seven days' time Madrid will play Manchester United in their round-of-16 second leg in the Champions League, and should Barça dash their Copa del Rey hopes this evening everything hinges on Europe. Ominously, Madrid have never progressed after drawing the first leg 1-1.

Mourinho isn't as cursed when he enters the Camp Nou anymore. He failed to win their three times with Chelsea, successfully lost with Internazionale and later in 2010 suffered a 5-0 drubbing in his first Clásico with Madrid. However Los Blancos' valiant draw from 2-0 down in last year's Copa del Rey was the precursor for their first victory at their nemesis' ground in four-and-a-half-years. Cristiano Ronaldo's winner effectively sealed their first title since 2008.

Looking ahead to the weekend fixture, despite its insignificance it poses a quandary for Mourinho. The United game takes precedence but will the natives accept him fielding a weakened team against Barcelona, who face AC Milan on 12 March? The 3pm kick-off time means the game will not be televised live in the UK due to the TV blackout to coincide with English football games, and it augments the lethargy it is being treated with, which gives Mourinho another viable excuse.

As monotonous as these matches are for the Special One, they will define his tenure at Madrid should he not be in charge next season. He will secretly relish both of this week's encounters despite the weary facade he has worn the last few months, but the swagger he exhibited on previous jaunts to the Bernabéu is long gone. And so could he be, in just over a week's time.