Barcelona coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has conceded that his side will have to beat Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico if they are to keep their hopes of alive of claiming the Primera Division title. A recent run of three defeats in six La Liga matches took Barcelona from leaders to now trailing their great rivals by four points entering the season’s final straight.
“Yes, it is, Martino responded when asked if this was his side’s last chance, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “There’ll be nine games left and having to cut back one point wouldn't be the same thing as cutting back seven. The big teams don’t slip up so much. A draw isn’t a good result -- we need to win.”
After their disappointing run, Barcelona have responded strongly. Victory over Manchester City to move into the quarterfinals of the Champions League was followed up by last week’s 7-0 drubbing of Osasuna. Lionel Messi struck a hat-trick in the match to become the club’s all-time leading scorer, but much of the discussion leading up to the Clasico has been about the identity of the players who will start alongside him in attack and particularly whether Neymar, with just one goal in 2014, will feature from the off.
“After Valladolid, we changed the look of the team, with Messi at the head,” Martino explained of Messi’s shift back from the deeper role he had occupied of late. “In all the important games, Messi has always turned up. Let’s hope he has a great game.
“I want to reiterate that Neymar is one of the five best players in the world, I don’t need a match, half a match or 10 minutes to confirm all the qualities he has,” he added. “I don’t want him to feel that he’s just another player, because he isn’t.”
Madrid have no such doubts about the makeup of their front line. Karim Benzema has recovered from a thigh injury that saw him miss out on Los Merengues confirming their place in the Champions League last eight with an emphatic 9-2 aggregate victory over Schalke. Despite Madrid’s dominant first-leg lead, Cristiano Ronaldo played the whole 90 minutes, scoring twice, while the other member of the so-called “BBC,” Gareth Bale, played most of the match after young forward Jese Rodriguez suffered a knee injury that will see him miss the rest of the season.
Incredibly, Madrid have not lost in any competition since their defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou last October. Their particular upturn in form at the start of 2014 coincided with a switch to a 4-3-3. The formation has meant Isco finding himself on the outside looking in, although the former Malaga midfielder has recovered from illness to take part in the squad.
Despite Madrid having a four-point edge on Barcelona and three-point advantage over Atletico Madrid going into the weekend, Ancelotti says there is still plenty of pressure on his team’s shoulders and ruled out the prospect of settling for a draw.
“The Clasico is always an important game and you always have the same pressure,” he said, reports AS.
“There’s as much pressure on us as there is on Barça.”
“We’re not thinking about drawing, because we have the slight advantage of playing at home. We’re going to do everything we can to win.”
Where to watch: El Clasico will kick off from the Bernabeu at 4 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.