Madrid ease through Dortmund 'dress rehearsal'

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

The Spanish press billed Real Madrid's last trip to face Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Sunday as a dress rehearsal for their big Champions League semi-final against Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion later this month.

Madridistas were left thinking: "If only".

Los Blancos cruised to a 3-0 victory against the Basques in their last visit to the famous old stadium. Old being the key word as Bilbao get set to move into a brand-spanking new stadium right on the doorstep of San Mames.

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It was meant to be a heated atmosphere for Madrid's visit, as it usually is. An atmosphere that could warm Jose Mourinho's men up for the trip to Germany, where Dortmund's huge home support is world-renowned. An atmosphere that is different to the rest of Spain -- more English or German-like, with the Athletic support so close to the pitch.

Bilbao look forward to the visit of the team from the Spanish capital more than any other -- including Barcelona and Basque rivals Real Sociedad. It's the one they are desperate to win and they gladly welcome Madrid in hostile fashion.

It should have been just that and then some for Madrid's final visit to the Cathedral, but instead it was largely anything but. Cristiano Ronaldo put paid to that just two minutes in when he smashed an unstoppable free kick into the back of the net to silence the Bilbao support right from the off.

Or just about. While Ronaldo's early goal was just what the doctor ordered for Madrid, the Portuguese continued to be attract the jeers of the home support throughout.

He attracted the criticism of Bilbao defender Mikel San Jose after the match, too. San José said: "If he [Ronaldo] were to just try and play football and not focus on other things, then he might not be the best player but he'd get more respect." A nice warm-up for Ronaldo ahead of the trip to Dortmund, at least.

It wasn't just the atmosphere that Madrid could draw parallels to ahead of their clash with the Bundesliga club, however. Bilbao, although not enjoying their success of last season, are a team that, like Dortmund, like to press high and play with a high intensity. A counter-attacking team for the ultimate counter-attacking team. Bilbao are not at the same level as Dortmund this season but the similarities are there.

It was a bit like when an international team plays a couple of warm-up games for the World Cup, as an example. They choose a team to face in a friendly that will pose similar problems, in a similar environment, to gear them up for the real test. With all respect to Bilbao, this was being billed as Madrid's warm-up game for the real big one to come next week.

It was a test Madrid passed with flying colours. Mourinho tinkered with his defence, using Sergio Ramos at right-back and bringing Raul Albiol in alongside Pepe in the centre, but he showed the ultimate respect to Bilbao by starting both Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira in the engine room.

A surefire sign of Mourinho taking his foot off the gas in La Liga of late is keeping one or both of his midfield generals on the bench, especially with more important European nights coming up. He didn't do that against the Basques.

Madridistas will be hoping the main event goes just as well as the dress rehearsal, then, but everyone knows the Germans will pose a much bigger threat.

Mourinho traveled over to Germany to scout Dortmund at the weekend, but I'm not too sure how much he will have got from seeing Jurgen Klopp's men destroy Greuther Fürth 6-1 in the Bundesliga.

One thing is for sure: the Special One may just have met his match in front of the cameras in Klopp. "I could have told him [Mourinho] that we are quite a good team myself if he had called me on the phone," the German joked after the match. "If he needs the experience of seeing his opponent in the stadium, then there is obviously no problem. However, he left when we were 5-0 up so he missed our weaknesses."

The Portuguese manager is famous for "starting" a match at the pre-match press conference, and not at the kick-off. For Mourinho, his own personal performance in front of the cameras is important in the build-up to a match for his team.

The teams have met before in the group stages, of course, but the build-up to next week's semi-final first leg could be more interesting than most.

A final mention for San Mames. A ground where I always wanted to watch a match, but unfortunately never did. Luckily, I managed a tour last summer and could only imagine the atmosphere inside. The club crest on the outside of the stadium can be seen straight down the main street leading into the centre of the town, a club that truly is in the heart of its community.

Hopefully a good job will be done with the new ground, that is literally slap-bang next to the current one. It certainly looks the part from the outside and hopefully it will be able to recreate the atmosphere of San Mames from the inside.

It was certainly quite a way for Madrid to bow out -- and I'm sure they'd love to spoil the moving-in party, too.

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