BARCELONA, Spain— Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho surprisingly benched veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas for Saturday’s game at Malaga, and the move may cost him more than just three points as little-used Adan Garrido was overwhelmed in a 3-2 loss.
Casillas has been a regular starter for a decade and is the captain of both Madrid and Spain’s world champion national team, and is widely revered by the club’s fans.
Saturday’s game was the first time he had not started a meaningful league fixture for the defending Spanish league champions in 54 matches.
Relations between Mourinho and his players were already frayed with the team on the slide, and they are likely to be further strained now.
“It surprised us, Iker is our captain,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said.
Mourinho justified the move to bench Casillas by saying that the inexperienced Adan was in better form.
“We hadn’t been playing well in different aspects of the game, among which was our defense,” said Mourinho. “It was a technical decision.
“My opinion is the one that matters. I analyzed the players I had available and picked the team to play. You can invent the story you want, but it is a purely technical decision and nothing more.”
The defeat was Madrid’s fourth in nine away matches and left the defending champions in third place 16 points behind leader Barcelona.
Adan had only four previous career starts in the league and had made three just starts this season: one in a Champions League game after Madrid’s place in the knockout rounds was already assured and two in Copa del Rey games against a lower-division opponent.
The 25-year-old Madrid youth product wasn’t tested in the first half as Madrid controlled the ball and the scoring chances. But after halftime he let three shots find his net while making just three saves.
Mourinho defended Adan by saying that he thought the choice of goalkeeper “had no influence in the result.”
However, Madrid hadn’t allowed three goals in a league game since a 3-1 loss to Barcelona last December, and it was the first time it had conceded three goals to a Spanish league team other than Barcelona since April, 2011.
The 31-year-old Casillas is widely respected both in Spain and abroad as one of the best keepers in the game. Casillas has been selected top goalkeeper in the world by players in FIFPro vote for four straight years and is expected to win again next month.
The last time Casillas did not start a league match was on May 5 last season after Madrid had clinched the title.
Casillas’ mood in Madrid’s dugout at La Rosaleda stadium went from glum to nervous and finally anguished as he watched his team fail to convert its plethora of chances in the first half, and then get picked apart in the second. At one point he zipped his sweatshirt up to hide half his face.
Malaga forward Francisco “Isco” Alarcon shot past Adan to open the scoring before Joaquin Sanchez set up Roque Santa Cruz to score twice more.
Malaga’s goals were well taken, but if doubts were already brewing about Mourinho’s ability to continue at the helm of Madrid, then his critics just received a big boost.
Mourinho scoffed at the question of whether he feared for his job heading into the winter break with very small hopes of defending the league title.
“Fear for my job?” he said. “I have never feared for my job.”
But in the next breath he acknowledged that “football has no memory. The only thing that matter is the present, not the titles you have won.”