With the league title finally relinquished last week and their long quest for a 10th European Cup having ended in disappointment once again, Real Madrid will get one final attempt to lift silverware this season when they take on local rivals Atletico Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey on Friday.
It has been a season of disappointment on the pitch and turmoil off it, which explains why few doubt that the contest at Madrid’s own Bernabeu stadium will be Jose Mourinho’s last bid for a trophy as Los Blancos manager. Mourinho has had a very public spat with Pepe in recent days over the treatments the Portuguese coach has dished out to captain and club icon Iker Casillas. There are reports that few members of the squad still have any relationship with Mourinho.
It appears that the club is being held together by the most tightly wound piece of string that could snap at any moment. That time could well come after the Copa del Rey final and certainly looks set to happen after the final match of the Liga season, but it is to the credit of those involved that, for the most part, their performances on the pitch have not unduly suffered.
Madrid have gone 15 matches unbeaten domestically, only failing to win twice. With their focus put on the Champions League, many of those results were attained with weakened lineups, including a victory over Atletico last month. In their best season since winning a league and cup double in 1996, Atletico for a long period looked to have a good chance of finishing above their more illustrious neighbors, but that hope was ended with their loss at the Vicente Calderon.
Incredibly that made it 25 matches that Atletico had gone winless against Madrid dating back to 1999. Perhaps more than ever, their two defeats this season, when they appeared primed to seize the advantage, showed what a psychological hurdle the derbies have become. Indeed, Atletico have come up short in all four matches against Spain’s big two this season, most recently losing 2-1 to Barcelona last week.
Diego Simeone has engineered a new pride and commitment since taking over the reins 18 months ago but he has not yet been able to get his side to believe that they can beat the very best. While the former Atletico midfielder is happy to play the role of underdog heading into Friday’s final, he recognizes that the next stage of his journey with the club is to win silverware.
“After achieving the main goal to be among the top three and getting in to the Champions League, to ensure economic growth a better economic future for the club, the most important thing for the fans is to win tournaments,” he said, according to Atletico’s website. “People are not going to celebrate the third place, but they will these types of games. We have the ability. Since the Cup began we wanted to win and we are in the place where we wanted to be."
The final of the Copa del Rey would be a dream occasion to snap their long, unwanted streak and bring an ignominious end to Madrid’s troubled season.
Betting Odds: Real Madrid are heavy favorites to get the in, priced at 1/2 with Paddy Power. Atletico Madrid are 5/1 outsiders, with a draw available at 10/3.
Where to watch: The Copa del Rey final will kick-off at 3.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN and ESPN Deportes.