Luis Enrique believes Real Madrid’s problems have been exaggerated and insists Saturday’s Clasico will not prove decisive in the race for the Liga title.
Barcelona head to the Santiago Bernabeu with a three-point advantage at the top of the table and with Madrid reportedly in disarray amid speculation senior players are disgruntled with the tactics employed by new boss Rafa Benitez.
The former Madrid midfielder will not be fooled by the suggestions all is not well in the Spanish capital, however, and is simply focusing on gaining three points.
He said at Friday’s media conference: “I am not going to defend our eternal rivals but people exaggerate these things. This game won’t decide the league. It’s a big game and we want to beat them.”
The Barca head coach added: “We have positive feelings, not just because the game is one we identify as being very special but because of the position we are in.
“We will try to minimise their potential, we know how strong they are in every department. I just want to see my team play to their top level and see if we can beat them.
“We are playing the 12th game of the season. We lost at the Bernabeu last season, won at Camp Nou and won the league. It’s an important game for us but I repeat whatever happens will not be decisive.”
Barca will have Lionel Messi available with the Argentina international returning to training this week following a knee injury, while the home side have a fully fit squad to choose from.
Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos are in line to start for Madrid, although Luis Enrique insists that it will not alter his mindset.
“We don’t tend to plan around who is playing for the opposition, although you have to adapt to certain patterns,” he said. “Their line-up will mean we may fine tune things but we go into this game the same way we go into any game.”
Madrid suffered a defeat in their last Liga game – 3-2 at Sevilla on November 8 – but Luis Enrique does not believe that will have any impact on Saturday’s encounter.
“I don’t look too much into the results of the other teams,” he said. “Obviously I want our direct rivals to lose all the time. But in between there have been the international games and I don’t think the last result has much to do with it.
“Real Madrid are going to go into this game looking as strong as they always do but let’s hope we can stand up to it.
“I don’t think they are better than we are but I’m the manager of their rivals so I am bound to say that.
“But they are a top quality team and if we don’t play well they can beat us. What else do you expect against a team that has the same targets as we do?”
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