All the world's a stage at the Bernabeu

Posted by Rob Train

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesReal Madrid supporters showered Jose Mourinho with cheers during his pregame stroll at the Bernabeu on Saturday.

It was billed as an evening of theater at the Bernabeu and in some ways it didn't disappoint. It was just a pity there was very little football on display. The first act was a premeditated one: Jose Mourinho invited the disgruntled home support to come and have a go at 9:20 p.m., to vent its collective spleen at the Real coach after the Betis debacle (the 1-0 road loss). Sections of the crowd booed the Portuguese's name during the insipid Copa del Rey match against Alcoyano midweek and Mourinho decided it would be a good opportunity to lay the cards on the hallowed turf.

As it transpired, there were few takers. The Ultras were in full voice in favor of the beleaguered coach; the Atletico fans - a few hundred of them, yet another case for review of La Liga's policy on away tickets as there were plenty of empty seats in the areas around the "traveling" support - predictably were not. The rest of the bemused early birds were the usual gaggle of European and Japanese tourists, who contented themselves with taking pictures of the entire show. Mourinho's one-man band might have enjoyed a greater audience had the heaters in the stadium been turned on. As it was there was more interest in the numerous bars around the Bernabeu, heaving despite the mercury outside showing a frigid zero degrees celsius.

"I'd like to make it clear that, although they have been sold differently, at no time were Mourinho's words intended as a public challenge to the Bernabeu. It was simply so that people who disagreed with him could boo him before the match, with the condition that later they would be behind the team during the game," assistant coach Aitor Karanka said.

- Real's run in derby continues

On the field, Atletico hardly played the part it had been billed in, either as Real won, 2-0. It was perhaps the first time this season, the Europa League aside, that Diego Simeone had abandoned an attacking policy because of the opposition.

In the absence of Filipe Luis, who before Saturday's game had slung more crosses into opposition penalty areas than any other player in the league, the Argentinean coach opted to hand Cata Díaz his second start of the season. The ruse worked well on the one hand -- his bruising compatriot kept Angel di Maria reasonably in check -- but it stymied any chance Atletico had of going on the offensive down its favorite flank. Arda Turan was isolated and Radamel Falcao, making his Bernabeu debut, was reduced to chancing his arm from distance on the rare occasion when he didn't have his back to goal, the excellent Sergio Ramos in close attendance at all times.

If this was a dress rehearsal for Falcao's future ambitions, he fluffed his lines badly. The Colombian's most memorable intervention was a theatrical fall when brushed with the lightest of touches by the Real vice captain.

Real, meanwhile, failed to click in the final third for much of the game. It took a Ronaldo free kick to break the deadlock, giving Thibaut Courtois little chance. It was good timing from the Portuguese winger: his first goal from a free kick since April 11, when Courtois was also on the receiving end at the Calderon.

Later, Xabi Alonso flicked a dead ball to the number 7, who took a couple of paces and unleashed another dipping drive that the young Belgian, on loan from Chelsea, did well to cover. There has been plenty of talk of some swap deal involving Fernando Torres and Falcao. If Chelsea really want the Colombian, it would be better off offering Courtois as part of any package.

Ronaldo played a fine game and could have increased his side's lead in the second half, when the first the post then the upright denied him, from a flowing counter-attack and then another exocet of a free kick.

After the match, Real's multi-tasking director Emilio Butragueno said that the world's most expensive player had had a "partidazo". The suffix "azo" is extremely worn in Spain, being applied to either the latest work of art to emerge from Spanish pop music or any achievement that clearly couldn't possibly have been carried out by anything other than a Spaniard. Here, it was well-deserved.

"He played a great game and was decisive in the victory. He scored a great goal from a free-kick when the team needed it most. He opened the game up, we weren’t creating many chances until that point. Ronaldo demonstrated again that he is a team player and there when he is needed."

Much of the on-field fun was provided by Ramos and his running battle with old friend Diego Costa, with whom he clashed earlier in the year when the Brazilian was on loan at Rayo. A series of scuffles between the two eventually boiled over, with Costa trying to out-Oscar Falcao.

"Falcao is an honest player, but others give a bad image to the kids watching. The television cameras are there," noted the Sevillan. Indeed they are, and they appeared to pick up Ramos aiming more than just a blown kiss toward the combative Atletico man.

Make your own judgment about the Rayo incident here:

Nonetheless, the night was all about Mourinho and, inevitably, the Special One stole the show. He was rarely an inch from the edge of the technical area, growling at the fourth official or remonstrating with Simeone. Butragueno summed up the feeling at the club: "Mourinho can do what he wants. Everybody, the crowd and the club, is behind him," he told Spanish television.

It will be needed: Barcelona maintained its 11-point with a thumping 5-1 win over Athletic Bilbao and in doing so broke the longstanding record for the best start to a Liga season. The previous mark was held by John Toshack's Real in 1990-91, when Los Blancos went on to win the league with a record 107 goals.

"It is difficult to imagine a Real Madrid without Mourinho, but it is not my place to talk about the future. We have been in worse situations before but our success is based on the unity of the group,” Ramos said.

Alvaro Arbeloa added: "The Liga is not over if we don’t want it to be over, if we keep fighting it will remain alive. It is down to us. We cannot stop, we’re not going to throw in the towel and concentrate on the Cup and the Champions League. We have to improve away from the Bernabeu. That is where we are being punished."

Real's calendar between now and the winter break suggests that the Pax Mourinhica will extend at least into January: Valladolid away, Espanyol at home and Málaga in La Rosaleda shouldn't pose too many problems, although there is of course that "little team" jibe to contend with whenever Real travels to the south coast.

In the meantime, Real was back on the training field Sunday morning ahead of the Ajax match on Tuesday. The Bernabeu club has nothing to play for and will probably take the opportunity to field some youngsters and fringe players. José Rodríguez, forgotten fullback Fabinho and Denis Cheryshev trained with the first team Sunday and should make the squad.

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