Real and Ronaldo show that Barca can be beaten
Did Real Madrid's victory over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey signal a shift in the balance of power between the Spanish giants?
Real are unbeaten in the first two of four back-to-back meetings in 18 days and their success on Wednesday will have fortified them for the two Champions League semi-final encounters to come.
We learned several things from Real's cup win. First and foremost, it showed Barcelona can be beaten.
After putting the brakes on Barca's six-game winning streak in El Clasico by drawing 1-1 at the Bernabeu on Saturday, although Mourinho suffered brickbats from friend and foe alike for his negative tactics, Real went one better by beating their arch rivals to secure their first Copa del Rey since 1993.
With a nice bit of symmetry, their 18th Copa arrived 18 years after they last lifted the trophy. Cristiano Ronaldo headed the only goal of the game in the first half of extra time after Mourinho, partially reversing his policy of four days before, had chosen to put out an attacking side.
Full credit should go to Real for absorbing the onslaught that Barca launched in the second half and then coming out as the better team after 90 minutes had elapsed.
Real should now have eradicated the inferiority complex that seemed evident in recent years, whichever coach was at the helm, and can approach the Champions League ties with some optimism of progressing to the final at Wembley on 28 May.
On an individual level, Ronaldo deserves full marks. He not only scored the winner but also quietened many of his critics, including me, with a superb display for the entire 120 minutes.
Now when anyone talks about his previous tendency to disappear in big games, his defenders need only point to his performance on Wednesday night to suggest that is no longer the case.
For once, Ronaldo's head did not go down when things were not going in his favour.
Barca's back four did their best to upset him with niggling tackles but he rode them with aplomb and did not get drawn into pretty retribution. In a game with eight yellow cards, he stayed out of trouble.
His goal also took his season's tally in all competitions to 43, beating his record of 42 at Manchester United in 2007/8. That was the season he won the Golden Boot and was voted as Fifa World Player of the Year.
A headline in the Spanish sports newspaper Marca on Thursday read: "A dream night for Cristiano Ronaldo." It would be churlish to disagree with that statement.
His efforts have surely elevated him into the Real pantheon. He has equalled the 43 goals that Alfredo di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez respectively scored in the 1956-57 and 1989-90 seasons. Only Ferenc Puskas, with 49 goals in 1959-60, is now ahead of him in Real's record books.
To use a metaphor appropriate to the Wagnerian weather that engulfed Madrid as Real fans made their way to the Cibeles fountains to celebrate the victory, will Ronaldo show that lightning can strike twice or three times in the coming weeks?
The recent games between Real and Barcelona have also shown that Pepe is an accomplished defensive midfielder. Mourinho's search for someone to play that role could be over.
If there was another Real hero other than Ronaldo on Wednesday, it was Pepe. Mourinho had moved the Portuguese international from his usual position in the centre of the defence to good effect on Saturday and repeated the ploy four days later.
"We expected something like this," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola on Saturday night. "Pepe is strong player, very experienced and has been very difficult [to beat]. Seeing his qualities, we knew that he was going to play well so it didn't come as a surprise to us."
Pepe was also a constant menace up front, almost opening the scoring with a header that pinged off the woodwork just before half-time.
Adding to the Portuguese flavour of the team that Mourinho is starting to create in his own image, Ricardo Carvalho again provided a master class in astute defending.
Regardless of what happens in the Champions League, Real's success almost certainly means Mourinho will still be their coach at the start of next season.
And the final itself lifted the Copa out of its traditional slot as a sideshow to the battles for La Liga and the Champions League.
Early viewing figures showed that Wednesday night's match was the most watched domestic game between two Spanish club sides in history, attracting more than 14.1m viewers - an audience share of 73%.
Now the spotlight switches to the Champions League and it will be fascinating to see whether the Spanish public's appetite for El Clasico was sated or only whetted by the Copa del Rey.