Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists Sunday’s Clásico with Real Madrid at the Camp Nou won’t be decisive in the Liga title race, but admits there are plenty of incentives to victory for his side. Barcelona go into the meeting a point clear of their great rivals in the league standings, having gone on a tremendous run of form since the start of the year. While they have won nine of their last 10 league games, Madrid have won just three of their last six to see the title race swing dramatically in Barcelona’s favor. Yet, while accepting that Sunday’s encounter could have a big impact, Enrique is well aware that there will be plenty of games left for momentum to shift once more.
“It’s not any old game because we are facing our eternal rivals and the team who are nearest to us in the table,” he said, reports Spanish sports daily AS. “If we beat them, we collect points and they lose the chance to collect points. Then there is the goal average factor. There are a lot of incentives and it’s a game with special connotations for culés [Barcelona fans]. Having said that, it won’t be decisive; there will still be 10 games left to play after tomorrow.”
Barcelona continued their fine run by beating Manchester City in mid-week to book their place in the Champions League quarterfinals. It was a match in which Lionel Messi excelled alongside Luis Saurez and Neymar in a front three that has sparkled spectacularly in recent weeks. In contrast, Madrid’s own famed attacking trio, along with the rest of the team, have suffered a major dip in performances. Indeed, in contrast to Barcelona’s impressive win, Real Madrid only narrowly avoided Champions League catastrophe 10 days ago when a 4-3 home defeat to Schalke came close to ending their defense of the trophy. Enrique, though, refuses to accept the tag of favorites.
“All coaches tend to think that there are no favorites,” he said. “Both of us have the same objectives and the quality of the players on both sides is out of this world. It’s good to have confidence but we can’t fall into the trap of being over-confident or believing that it’s going to be easy or that the result is done and dusted.”
And Enrique’s counterpart, Carlo Ancelotti, has reason for some renewed confidence. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice against Schalke, while Gareth Bale, the primary target of criticism from both fans and media during Madrid’s slump, achieved the same feat in a 2-0 win over Levante last time out. That latest encounter also saw welcome returns from injury for midfielder Luka Modric and defensive linchpin Sergio Ramos. And Ancelotti insists he will be going for all three points at the Camp Nou, rather than settling for a draw.
“I have never settled for a draw in my career and I'm not going to now,” he said, reports Madrid publication Marca. “We have enough quality to win and so do Barcelona, so nobody wants a draw. “Barcelona are on a better run than we are. But the game will be difficult for both sides. We are confident because it means a lot to us and we can go top with a win.”
Ancelotti has a full squad to choose from, with the exception of James Rodríguez, Sami Khedira and Fabio Coentrao. Enrique has revealed that midfielder Sergio Busquets is back available after injury, although he won’t be 100 percent fit. Thomas Vermaelen, yet to play for Barcelona since signing from Arsenal last summer, is the only other absentee.
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EDT
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