MADRID - As Barcelona close on a third
successive La Liga title, Real Madrid's attention is turning to
next season and a future that seems certain to include Jose
Mourinho has been questioned in some quarters both for his
conservative tactics in the Champions League semi-final
first-leg defeat by Barcelona and his outburst that followed at
Real president Florentino Perez has a notorious lack of
patience with coaches but even though the Champions League, and
almost certainly the domestic league, have proved elusive in his
first season Mourinho can boast a tangible record of progress.
He has landed one major trophy after Real saw off Barcelona
in the King's Cup final and reaching the Champions League
semi-finals was a significant achievement given that the club
had not made it beyond the second round in six previous seasons.
Support for the former Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan boss
is likely to remain solid from the club and the Portuguese won
high praise from Real's honorary president Alfredo Di Stefano.
"Real may not be in the (Champions League) final but all the
club's values have been reinforced in the duels against
Barcelona," Di Stefano wrote in sports daily Marca on Thursday.
"A squad of enormous quality, a corps of star players,
tactical order on the pitch, sportsmanship among the players,
effort and commitment, and a coach with charisma and
It is a noteworthy vote of confidence from a huge figure at
the club who has not been slow in the recent past to criticise
Real's safety-first brand of football under Mourinho.
According to media reports in Spain, Real have already
started to work on the squad for the new campaign, with the
futures of Kaka and loan signing Emmanuel Adebayor top of the
Barcelona could celebrate their passage to the Champions
League final by wrapping up the title as early as this Sunday.
Pep Guardiola's side, who face Manchester United in Europe's
showpiece final at Wembley on May 28, are eight points clear
with four matches to play, leaving Real to make up an unlikely
nine points given that Barca have the head-to-head advantage.
A draw at the Nou Camp against city rivals Espanyol could be
enough to give them the title if Real get beaten away to Sevilla
Real head off to the Sanchez Pizjuan without suspended
defender Ricardo Carvalho and winger Angel di Maria looking to
end their worst run of the season, two defeats and a draw.
Valencia and Villarreal, third and fourth respectively, have
secured Spain's last two Champions League qualification places
barring major slip ups, though Europa League semi-finalists
Villarreal could yet steal the last automatic slot.
Valencia, who have 63 points, host Real Sociedad on Saturday and Villarreal, 60 points, visit Real Mallorca on Sunday.
Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, tied on 52 points and Athletic
Bilbao, who are one point back in seventh, are in pole position
for the three Europa League places.
Sevilla take on Real without injured midfielder Ivan
Rakitic. The Croatian international, who has been one of their
leading players in the second half of the campaign, is to have
surgery on a broken bone in his foot.
Atletico host improving Malaga on Saturday and Bilbao
are at home to outsiders for the Europa League positions Levante.
The relegation battle still has many twists and turns left
in it and sees some direct clashes this weekend.
Bottom club Almeria (26 points) only avoided the drop last
week due to their superior head-to-head record over Deportivo
La Coruna who are 12 points ahead of them in 17th, while Hercules
also appear to be doomed in 19th with 33.
However, the next six clubs, Getafe, Deportivo, Osasuna,
Real Zaragoza, Malaga and 13th-placed Racing Santander are only
separated by three points.
Getafe, who host Almeria on Saturday, are 18th with
37 points and are only one point from safety, but have suffered
five defeats from their last six outings.
Hercules are at home to Racing on Saturday and
16th-placed Osasuna (38 points) visit 15th-placed Zaragoza (39
points) in the last game of the weekend on Sunday.
"I like to work out the maths but I'm having to throw it
away. We can't think about results only about ourselves,"
Osasuna midfielder Fernando Soriano told reporters.
"We are all hoping Sunday comes quickly because having to
wait is the worst."
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