Rafael Benitez insists Real Madrid are the favorites for Saturday’s Clásico at home to Barcelona, and that his side will be going on the offensive against their great rivals. Ever since taking charge this summer, Benitez has faced accusations of bringing a more defensive mindset to a team that has traditionally looked not just to win but to do so with style.
Going into his first Clásico as manager he has even had to deal with speculation that members of his squad had requested to him that the team play with a more attacking outlook. However, the former Liverpool and Valencia boss denied those reports, and suggested Real Madrid would be aiming to take the initiative in front of their own fans.
“We’re playing in our stadium, with our fans and I think Madrid are favorites,” he said at his pre-match press conference, reports Spanish sports daily AS. “It’ll be a tough game, but a good one for the fans
“Madrid have a style of playing which is to go to win scoring more goals and we do that independent of who we face. We’re not focused on the rival and we try to do things the way we need to do them.”
With his injury crisis having come to an end, Benitez has significant selection dilemmas leading into Saturtday. James Rodríguez is available to make his first start for the club since August after playing twice for Colombia during the international break. Meanwhile, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas have all been included in the squad after overcoming various fitness issues. Benitez has confirmed that captain Ramos will start, but the makeup of the rest of his lineup remains in doubt.
“This is the second time we’ve got everyone available,” Benitez said. “I’ve got a winning side, with room to grow. Having everyone fit helps the group thanks to competition. Everyone in the squad is important and all of them could play.”
Benitez’s Barcelona counterpart, Luis Enrique, has his own big decisions to make before announcing his team. After overcoming a knee injury, Lionel Messi is back in the squad for Saturday’s matchup, as is midfielder Ivan Rakitic. Enrique has stated that Messi will not be at 100 percent after nearly two months on the sidelines, though wouldn’t confirm whether the man who has scored more Clásico goals than any other would start on the pitch or on the bench.
While not giving away anything about his own selection, Enrique also claimed that he would be paying no attention to who might be in the lineup for the opposition at the Bernabeu.
“We don’t plan our game based on who will play for the other team,” he said, according to Barcelona-based outlet Sport. “Of course there are certain things you have to adapt to. They have a lot of players who could or couldn’t play, but we go into this game the same as we do against other teams. I think it’s nice that as many players as possible -- the best in each squad -- can play, because that makes it so much better.”
Barcelona go into the match with a three-point edge over their rivals at the top of the Primera Division standings. Last season the two clubs split their series, with both winning on home ground.
Kickoff time: 12:15 p.m. EST
TV channel: beIN Sports