Barcelona coach Luis Enrique is determined to deliver a “final blow” to Real Madrid’s La Liga title chances in Saturday’s Clásico at the Camp Nou. The Catalans go into the match 10 points clear of their great rivals at the top of the table, with Atlético Madrid sandwiched in between, nine points back of the pace-setters. And Enrique views the game as an opportunity to knock off one of their challengers.
“We are playing like league leaders and want to take a giant step in the race to the title,” Enrique said, according to Spanish daily Marca. “Goal difference doesn't matter, the league marks the story of the season and we are the first. If we win it would be a final blow to Real Madrid, and Atlético Madrid would become our only rival for the league, so we must win.”
The match will be the first for Barcelona since the passing of their legendary former player and coach Johan Cruyff. And there is sure to be an emotional intense atmosphere inside the Camp Nou, while Enrique has urged his team not just to win, but to do so in a style that Cruyff would have applauded.
Barcelona will be aided in that quest by having their first-choice lineup to choose from, with French defender Jeremy Mathieu the only casualty from the international break. The preparation has hardly been ideal, however, for their star forward trio. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar have all faced long trips to South America to play in two World Cup qualifiers, and only returned to Barcelona training on Thursday evening.
Real Madrid also lost a French defender to injury over the break, as Raphael Varane suffered a recurrence of a calf injury. But Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have had two weeks to rest up having not being involved with their countries.
For coach Zinedine Zidane, Saturday’s match will be his first Clásico in charge after replacing Rafael Benitez at the start of the year. It was the opening Clásico of the season that delivered a massive and, as it turned out, unrecoverable, blow to Benitez’s reign, when Barcelona ran out emphatic 4-0 victors at the Bernabeu last November. Still, Zidane insists that revenge will not be the primary motivator for his squad at the Camp Nou.
“I haven't spoken to the players in that sense,” he said, reports Spanish sports outlet AS. “They know what happened but now we are only thinking about this game. Every game is different and this is another story but revenge… It's a game we need to win and want to win.”
Zidane has stressed that, despite being so far adrift in the league standings and facing a Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Wolfsburg on Wednesday, he will be picking his strongest lineup available. And Barcelona look set to do likewise, despite taking on Atlético Madrid in their quarterfinal on Tuesday.
Kickoff time: 2:30 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect