It was midday at the team hotel when José Mourinho announced his line-up and sprang a huge surprise: Iker Casillas had been dropped. A bombshell in the dressing room that the players struggled to digest over lunch. Some even suspected that it was only a bluff, an attempt to uncover one of the "three rotten eggs" in the squad who had leaked the story that goalkeeping coach Silvino Louro was 'spying' on them for the the Portuguese boss. The players believe Mourinho suspects Casillas.
The news was confirmed at 18:55 CET, when the team sheet was submitted. Yet on Tuesday, the coaching staff had already told Antonio Adán, the captain's replacement in goal, that he would be starting at La Rosaleda. Until yesterday, he had made four appearances for Madrid: three in the Copa del Rey and one against Ajax in the Champions League. Against the Dutch champions, Adán was at fault for the goal conceded; against Alcoyano in the Copa, he was also to blame as Javi Lara scored from a free-kick.
In the run-up to the game, Mourinho had warned: "We can't pick and choose between competitions. We have to give our all each and every time we play." He named no names, but the barb was clearly aimed at Casillas. Since 2001-2002, when he was left out of the Champions League final by then coach Vicente del Bosque in favour of César, Casillas had made the jersey his own. Maybe Mourinho had also dropped his number one because of Madrid's frailty at set-pieces; 11 of the 26 goals conceded this season have been from dead-ball situations.
"Tension isn't healthy", Florentino Pérez had told journalists at the club's traditional Christmas dinner. Yesterday at La Rosaleda, Iker Casillas was on the bench. To the players, Mourinho's message to the president was clear: "It's me or Casillas".