Rafa Benitez shrugged off suggestions of dressing room discontent and insisted Real Madrid are “extra-motivated” ahead of Saturday’s Clasico meeting with Barcelona.
Speculation has been rife that senior members of the squad – in particular Cristiano Ronaldo – are unhappy with Benitez’s tactics, but the former Liverpool boss was in defiant mood in Friday’s media conference.
He told a journalist who brought up the subject: “I respect your profession, the work you do, the message you pass on to the fans and sometimes you have to look for a story where there is no story. It’s not true.
“I have worked as a coach for many years and so far it has worked.”
The situation is reported to have come to a head following the 3-2 defeat at Sevilla in Madrid’s last Liga game, but Benitez was happy to brush the subject to one side and focus on preparing the players for his biggest test in charge.
He added: “The players are extra motivated for this game and they are a very professional group. Big players like to play in big games against big clubs.
“There is extra motivation this week so I am very optimistic going into this game.
“We lost in Seville but we were without several key players. We played very well in the first half, not so well in the second. It’s something we have analysed and worked on.”
Ronaldo’s form has been questioned this season, with the Portugal captain netting in just four of his 11 Liga appearances.
But Benitez is confident his star forward will soon regain his touch in front of goal.
He said: “My attacking players are free to switch positions. They have my full confidence. I want Ronaldo to feel at home, get in the box and score goals. I know he will.”
Barca, who are three points clear at the top of the table, are set to welcome back Lionel Messi from injury, but Benitez did not appear too concerned by the possible return of the Argentina superstar.
“We play to win and try to score more goals than our opponents, regardless of who we play against,” he said. “We focus on what we have to do, not our opponents.
“We’ll play in our stadium and in front of our fans, therefore, Real Madrid are always favourites. With the passion of the players I am quite positive.”