Can Madrid make Real Champions League strides?
This might not be the best time to ask, in the wake of their first home defeat of the season, but can Real Madrid finally win the Champions League again and be crowned the kings of Europe for a 10th time?
Of course they can. Logic dictates that any one of the remaining eight teams in this year's competition has a chance to lift the trophy at Wembley on May 28.
However, is it a realistic proposition that it will be Real Madrid who will win a first title since 2002?
Mourinho's Real Madrid had won all 14 of their previous home games this season. Picture: Reuters
Was their 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sporting Gijon, which brought coach Jose Mourinho's streak of going over nine years and 150 games since his last home defeat in a league game to an end, just a blip on the radar or a symptom of more deep-rooted malaise that Tottenham can exploit to their benefit on Tuesday night?
My feeling is that it was the former and Real Madrid will make big strides towards the semi-finals by bouncing back thanks to some of Mourinho's psychology lessons.
After the hugely impressive performance in the 3-0 victory over Lyon in the second leg in the last round, the French side's coach Claude Puel commented: "We could not match them. Real Madrid can go on to win the Champions League."
It was a sentiment with which Mourinho concurred and the belief is still there that they can lift Europe's top club prize despite having now effectively thrown in the towel on challenging their bitter rivals Barcelona for this year's domestic title.
"Of course it will be difficult to face teams like Manchester United, Chelsea or Barcelona, but I have no fear of them," said the former Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor on Sunday, still sounding resoundingly optimistic.
"I think with this team and this coach, this club can win the Champions (League)."
If their squad is fit, and that is the big issue rather than its inherent talent, Real certainly have the resources to go all the way this time.
Critics, and I was certainly among them for the first few months of the season when it seemed like there was very little cohesion among the team and Mourinho was just throwing 11 individual talents onto the pitch as he might do if he was coaching a Sunday pub side, will point to the now famous 5-0 defeat by Barcelona in November and Saturday's lapse against Sporting Gijon as reasons why the current Real Madrid side still don't have what it takes.
However, both defeats, and perhaps they will be seen at the end of the season as pivotal points in Mourinho's first year at the club, should be taken in context.
At the Camp Nou, Mourinho was still finding his feet and because of the very special nature of El Clasico and the fact that most of their players had by then got through the 'World Cup hangover' that seemed to affect most of the Spanish squad that triumphed in South Africa, Barcelona played one of their best games of recent seasons, even by their own exalted standards.
It's possibly fair to say that they haven't played that well, or had to play that well, since and a chastened Real bounced back with some outstanding outings in the following few months.
Saturday's defeat was against an exceptionally motivated Sporting Gijon after some bad blood between the two sides earlier in the season.
Several Sporting players also wanted prove a point after having gone public with the fact that they were boyhood Atletico Madrid or Barcelona fans.
There was also David Barral, one of Sporting's best players up front on Saturday, who has always been bitter about the fact that having gone through the Real youth system he was never given a chance to play for the first team and always seems to turn it on against his former club.
Real were also decimated by injuries to key players.
Cristiano Ronaldo and the much-improved Karim Benzema as well as Xabi Alonso and Marcelo, two men who have been among the most consistent and impressive performers for Real this season, were all missing.
In theory, Ronaldo and Marcelo were also due to miss the Spurs game - "Cristiano, Benzema and Marcelo will only be able to play against Athletic
Bilbao," said Mourinho on Friday - but on Monday morning there was the strong suggestions that Mourinho will throw them into the fray against Harry Redknapp's men.
It may be a price worth paying, even if it means that they ultimately miss next weekend's league game at Athletic Bilbao.
Against Lyon, Ronaldo was clearly not fully fit after suffering a hamstring injury two weeks previously but the Real Madrid doctors worked their magic and he managed to play for 70 minutes.
Even if he was not quite the dominating force that he had been earlier in the season, he still had an influence on proceedings and set up the opening goal for Marcelo.
Ronaldo's hamstring only lasted another 70 minutes and he was injured again the following weekend in the derby against Atletico and has not played in the last two weeks.
Gambling on his player's health, and perhaps even sacrificing it, might be seen by Mourinho as a valid tactic as his appointment last summer was always about winning the Champions League, with La Liga taking secondary priority.
Real president Florentino Perez was also in charge of the club in 2002 when they won their last Champions League title, their third in five years and a record ninth in total, but since then their progress in the competition has steadily declined.
They went out in successively earlier rounds for the next three years and didn't get beyond the last 16 for six consecutive years, only reversing that trend in this campaign.
Perez is desperate for those glory days to return, having seen his club eclipsed on the continental stage by Barcelona's more recent triumphs.
The only problem for Perez, Mourinho and their players is that if they get past Spurs then the aforementioned Barcelona (or possibly Shakhtar Donestsk, but it would be an almighty upset if the Ukrainians beat the Spanish champions) will await them in the semi-finals.
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