Mourinho applauds 'tired' Madrid
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho heaped praise on his exhausted team after seeing them edge past local rivals Atletico Madrid to keep within touching distance of Primera Division leaders Barcelona.
First-half goals form the in-form Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil set Real on their way and, although Sergio Aguero pulled a goal back for Atletico with four minutes to go, it was too little too late to save Los Rojiblancos from another derby disappointment.
The result means Real remain unbeaten against their neighbours since 1999 and have won all four meetings with Atletico this season, having also beaten them home and away in the Copa del Rey. The victory also allowed Mourinho's side to keep within five points of Barça, who defeated Getafe earlier in the evening.
It was not an easy night for Real at the Vicente Calderon though, and having had an emotionally draining UEFA Champions League clash against Lyon on Wednesday when the Whites finally made it through to the quarter-finals after six successive last-16 exits, Mourinho admitted fatigue had been a problem.
"They had a week to prepare for the duel and us, two days. The team was tired. I was also tired and I'm the coach," said the Portuguese, who has been highly critical of the scheduling of his side's matches recently. "The second half was difficult. We couldn't hit them on the counter attack. I changed Cristiano [Ronaldo] and Benzema, but Ozil had to stay on. We defended as well as possible and we achieved an important derby win."
Ronaldo was a fitness doubt ahead of the game having been sidelined with a hamstring injury before playing 70 minutes in the European triumph over Lyon. Mourinho opted to start the Portugal international against Atletico before replacing him in the 72nd minute.
"I would like to have rested him, but I didn't want the championship to end today and Cristiano Ronaldo is very important to us. It was a risk to play him, but you need to live day to day," Mourinho said. "Today he hurts and tomorrow the doctors will examine him. Then we'll see if he goes away with Portugal [on international duty]. They are all tired, physically and mentally."
Mourinho also hailed the performance of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a string of impressive saves to keep Atletico at bay before finally being beaten by Aguero near the end. "Casillas has done a fantastic job. I like it when my goalkeeper doesn't have much to do in a game, and he had a lot to do tonight and he was fantastic," said Mourinho.
"Atletico have shown their great spirit and quality of play, and Madrid had an answer to those who thought that the league finished today. I was very worried [about a late equaliser], but at the same time I was full of trust in the players' mentality and fighting spirit. I know football and many things happen in the last minutes and change the result. But they fought, they gave everything and I'm pleased for the players."