JOSE MOURINHO hopes his players can finish with a flourish on Friday and deliver the Spanish Cup in what is likely to be his final match as Real Madrid manager.
Luckily for Mourinho and Madrid, Atletico has been incapable of winning a Spanish capital derby so far this millennium.
Atletico’s last victory over its city rival came 14 years ago, in 1999. Since then, Madrid has won 19 times with Atletico managing only six draws.
Madrid can also count on the goal-scoring prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo, who will go head-to-head with Atletico striker Radamel Falcao.
Ronaldo headed home Madrid’s winner in the 2011 final against Barcelona. Falcao, meanwhile, has a knack of rising to the occasion, scoring to win two Europa League finals for Atletico last year and for FC Porto in 2011.
“It’s a trophy that we are very excited to win,” Ronaldo said of the Copa del Rey. “We know it will be a hard-fought match against a rival of the same city and it will be quite a show for the fans.
“I go into the match with a sense of great responsibility. I face all games the same way, but this is a final. It’s a special match, but my ambition is always the same, to help Real Madrid the best way I know how, by playing well, scoring goals, and setting up my teammates.”
Ronaldo’s buoyant mood contrasts completely with the stink Mourinho has made of things lately.
In his third season at Madrid, Mourinho has turned his ire away from opposing coaches and referees and onto his very own players. He started with benching Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas, and most recently mocked one of his physical on-the-field enforcers in Pepe after he broke ranks and supported Casillas.
This belittling of his own players together with Madrid’s loss of the Spanish league title to Barcelona and its failure to win an elusive 10th European Cup would probably have been enough to get a coach of lesser standing fired.
But Mourinho has gone one step further and insisted that he is not “loved” in Spain like he is in the Premier League, saying he will discuss his future with Madrid president Florentino Perez when the season finishes in early June.
All combined, Mourinho should expect a noisy reception from the home fans at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where he has been jeered in recent matches.
Nevertheless, Mourinho could lift the Copa del Rey trophy as a consolation prize. If not, this season will be considered a complete flop for a club that boasts one of the most expensive squads in the world.
Atletico has a unique opportunity to wipe away years of misery by finally beating Madrid with a title at stake. To do so, the Atletico players will have to find a way to shake off the psychological advantage Madrid has over them.
In their most recent meeting on April 27, Madrid came from behind to win 2-1 even without Ronaldo’s help.
“Of course our fans don’t like the situation, but I don’t think it will influence the match,” Atletico forward Diego Costa said. “We know it’s a final and we have to be at our best to win. The key is to stick together as a great team and for each one of us to give it his all.”
Neither side will play in the league over the weekend after playing last week to make room for the final.
With Barcelona, Madrid and Atletico having locked up the top three spots, fourth place and the final Champions League berth is still up for grabs between Real Sociedad and Valencia.
Both are level on points before Valencia visits Getafe and Sociedad travels to Sevilla on Saturday.
Barcelona, which clinched the league title last weekend, can still match Madrid’s record point haul of 100 if its wins its remaining three games, beginning with Valladolid on Sunday. Barcelona will be without top scorer Lionel Messi after he re-injured his right hamstring.
Granada hosts Osasuna on Saturday with the winner going a long way to securing its place in the topflight. Deportivo hosts Espanyol on Sunday, while Zaragoza welcomes Athletic Bilbao.
Mallorca hosts Real Betis on Monday. Rayo Vallecano visits Levante on Sunday with both mid-table.