Andy Mitten

Jose’s big ambitions for Real

Andy Mitten

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The 2,100
Real Madrid fans travelling to Milan
for Wednesday's Champions League game will be delighted with what they've seen
so far under Jose Mourinho.

Unbeaten Madrid top the Primera Liga with a slender one-point lead
over Barcelona.
After nine games, Spain's
big two occupy the top two positions for the first time this season and that's
unlikely to change. Villarreal could have gone top for the first time in their
history a couple of weeks ago, but such stories will fade from view as the big
two restore the natural order.

There was a
25 point gap between Madrid
in second and the rest last season, a ridiculous statistic which damaged the
credibility of the league. A vast disparity in television revenues was one
reason and clubs are close to agreeing a fairer system of distribution similar
to the collective deal in England,
though the challengers didn't help themselves at the weekend. Villarreal,
Valencia and Atletico Madrid were all held to
1-1 draws by lowly opponents. Sevilla were destroyed 5-0 by Barca.

Second will
not be good enough for Madrid.
Mourinho was brought in to wrest the title back from Barcelona and he's made a solid start,
winning nine and drawing twice - though the fixture list has been exceptionally
kind to them so far. The Special One's ambitions do seem to aim a little higher
than the league. A piece of paper discarded by Mourinho and found in the dugout
following Saturday's 3-1 win at Hercules had the figures '38', '6' and '13 = 57'.
The 38 league games are set, 13 would take Madrid to the Champions League final at
Wembley, though the '6' remains curious. That would take Madrid only as far as the semi-finals of the
Copa Del Rey - a competition they've not won since 1991.

Madrid have been woeful in Europe
and unable to progress beyond the last 16 in each of the last six seasons, but
don't put it beyond Mourinho to change that.

Having
coached an Internazionale team that was occasionally devoid of Italians,
Mourinho won't be too concerned that no Spanish player has scored for Madrid so far this term.

Especially
when his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo is in such good form. Spain's top scorer
with 11 so far (38 in 38 league games since leaving Manchester United), Ronaldo
scored two more against Hercules and his modesty remained intact as he said: "I'm
in great form and having a phenomenal run."

That was
after David Trezeguet had given the home side the lead, the Frenchman's
positioning again perfect. I interviewed Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently and he was
raving about just that.

"He's
the best in the world at finding space in the box," said his former Juventus strike
partner.

"I've never seen somebody more intelligent than him in the box at
corners or set-pieces. It's like he knows where the ball will be, in the air or
on the floor."

The
Alicante-based side had beaten Barca in Camp
Nou, but were overwhelmed by Madrid in the second
half. It was the first time they'd come from behind to win this season and
Mourinho will be pleased by the impact of substitute Karim Benzema, who has
been starved of starts and ineffective when played. After a week of speculation
that the Frenchman's Madrid
career was effectively finished, Mourinho brought Benzema on to break down
opponents. He did.

"I'm
very happy for Benzema," said Ronaldo. "He was the key. He played a
decisive role and assisted me in our third goal."

"People
will realise I am a good player," added Benzema. "I just need to
play."

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