BARCELONA: Barcelona are the more desperate side as Real Madrid visit Catalonia on Saturday for the first El Clasico of the season boasting a six-point lead at the top of La Liga.
Real have won 15 more points in all in La Liga under the guidance of Zinedine Zidane since the sides last met in April and are riding a 31-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
“On Saturday we have more to play for than Madrid, they can lose, we can’t,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. Barca are off to their worst league start in nine seasons and have drawn three of their last four games in all competitions, failing to beat Malaga and Real Sociedad in their last league outings.
However, coach Luis Enrique believes much of the media criticism of his side has been overblown, citing the institutional crisis that Barca overcame in the January of his debut season in 2015 to win the treble.
“We remain favourites for all the titles, but it is evident we have to improve,” said Enrique. We lack consistency, but don’t exaggerate. In my first season you (the media) exaggerated and we ended up winning the treble.”
Real have enviously looked on as Barca claimed six La Liga titles in the last eight years, but they can take a huge step towards a first crown since 2012 with victory at the Nou Camp.
Real have won two Champions Leagues in the last three years, but have been frustrated by Barca’s recent domestic hegemony, and many of their players have spoken about prioritising their title chase this year.
They lead Barcelona and third-placed Sevilla by six points at the top of the standings and Zidane is two games away from equalling a club record of 34 games unbeaten.
Both coaches have had to juggle their squads to deal with a raft of absentees this season and Real will be without Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale, although midfield anchor Casemiro is set to return.
MADRID: Real Madrid players attend a training session at Valdebebas Sport City on the eve of their La Liga match against Barcelona.
Barcelona are boosted by the return of captain Andres Iniesta after six weeks out with a knee injury.
Real’s fringe players like Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio, Mateo Kovacic and Alvaro Morata have performed admirably when the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Kroos and Luka Modric have been injured.
Barca have looked far more vulnerable, however, when key personnel have been injured, despite spending some 122 million euros ($128.84 million) on strengthening their squad in the close season.
“Zidane has managed the squad very well, we have the best squad in the world and you can only achieve an unbeaten run like ours with a strong squad,” said Real winger Lucas Vazquez.
Defender Nacho added: “In comparison to last season we go to the Nou Camp in a great frame of mind. We’re top of the league, we are in very good form and we’re very excited about going there to take the three points.”
Courtesy : Dawn News