With first of upcoming three Clasicos in a month starting today, in first leg of Copa del Rey semi-finals, FC Barcelona travel to the Bernabeu for yet another game which is expected to be a cracker. This time, the focus will not entirely be on Cristiano v Messi but also on who both teams have in-goal in a crucial leg which could make or break a team’s foothold in the tie.
With Iker Casillas picking up an injury last week and then being operated upon thus keeping him out for two-three months, Real acted fast and signed Diego Lopez within hours of Iker’s operation. Lopez, a former Canterano and an experienced La Liga keeper had failed to steal a starting place at Sevilla’s Estadio Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan despite his move in the summer from relegated Villarreal.
Lopez’s signing was announced on Saturday evening and he was then named in the squad to face Getafe at noon along with Antonio Adan, who had become first choice goalkeeper now, and Jesus Fernandez from Real Madrid Castilla. It was no surprise to see Adan start and play full ninety minutes against the Madrid based Getafe but what was surprising was Jose Mourinho’s choice to put Lopez on the bench over Jesus. It must be remembered that Jesus had spent the week and many weeks training in the past with the senior team and ideally, he should have been the appropriate choice to replace Adan, if required.
On Monday, Lopez was presented to the media and he spoke of the expectations and how he’s ready to meet them. Having been brought up in the La Fabrica system, Lopez knows of the expectations with the club and the players. Many things have changed since his exit from Real Madrid in 2007 but the expectations have remained the same and the pressure has remained the same.
Now to the topic at hand, Lopez in goal or Adan?
With the urgency shown in signing him and then getting him up to speed with the training system and thereafter putting him on the bench, Mourinho has shown he has confidence in Lopez and more importantly, his experience at this level tips the balance in his favour. Lopez has featured in a few La Liga games for Real Madrid under Fabio Capello as Casillas’ substitute and then been a regular for Villarreal in La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League. He was called up for Spanish national team duties by Vicente Del Bosque for World Cup qualifiers against Turkey and for Confederations Cup in 2009 where he was third choice behind Casillas and Pepe Reina and did not feature. He did get his chance with début as a substitute against Macedonia in August 2009 which is his solitary international game till date.
The bigger reason could be to get Lopez in shape and get accustomed to the team and their style of play before Manchester United visit the Bernabeu on February 13 which is possibly the biggest game of the month, more than the Clasicos in the Copa del Rey. It will be incredibly naïve to think Copa del Rey trumps Champions League with the club’s desires for La Decima and Mourinho’s selfish interests in beating Manchester United, a place where he is highly tipped to take over once Sir Alex Ferguson retires.
Who starts against Barcelona will highlight Mourinho’s plans or give a slight peek into his thought process as far as the much-talked about position is concerned. If Adan starts, it will seem strange to have signed an experienced goalkeeper for three and a half years on nearly four million euro contract and then not use him in vital games. But, if Lopez starts, it will suggest Mourinho has him in his plans and pavé the way for Adan’s exit from the club in the summer as his place would be lost. Although, based on recent form, Adan had a perfect game against Getafe and he ensured the decision would not be an easy one for ‘The Special One’.
In numbers: AS poll says 67% want Lopez to start and 33% want Adan to start.
Who do you think will start? And, why?
Sidenote: Barcelona’s choice for goalkeeper is not fully sure either. Usually Valdes would be the easy choice but Pinto was promised Copa del Rey games including the important ones. Will the promise be fulfilled? Will find out when the lineups are announced.
(Image via RTVE)