Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui does not expect harsh treatment of Gerard Pique from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Italy.
The Barcelona defender’s outspoken defence of his club’s interest in the intense rivalry with Real Madrid, coupled with a public sympathy for the Catalan independence movement, has led to boos from Spain fans on a number of occasions during his impressive international career.
There are concerns that matters could come to a head when Pique takes to the pitch at Madrid’s home this weekend, with Sergio Ramos having already urged fans not to target his team-mate.
But Lopetegui is confident that supporters will be firmly on the player’s side during what could be a crucial Group G encounter.
“I’m not worried about the issue of Pique and the Bernabeu,” he told a news conference. “I’m sure the fans in Madrid will help the national team because we’re going to need them, especially in a moment of the game where we need their energy.”
Both sides have won five of their six matches in qualifying, with their only dropped points coming in a 1-1 draw in Turin last October, when a late Daniele De Rossi penalty cancelled out Vitolo’s opener.
— Selección Española (@SeFutbol) August 30, 2017
Lopetegui expects Italy to produce a different display and insists they cannot be considered a defensive side any longer.
“It will be a tough match because they’re an amazing team, a huge opponent. Spain have to give the best of themselves to get a result,” he said.
“They have a style of play that has been the same with different coaches. They have won all their recent matches, aside from the draw against us. They’re not ‘catenaccio’ any more.
“I expect a totally different game from the one we played in October. I expect an Italy who are different in every aspect.”
Torino striker Andrea Belotti has been tipped to start on Saturday, the 23-year-old having signed off from club duty with a spectacular overhead kick in a 3-0 Serie A win over Sassuolo.
Lopetegui is refusing to focus too much on halting Belotti alone, though.
“He’s an excellent player, he’s improved a lot. But there are many other players: [Lorenzo] Insigne, [Antonio] Candreva, [Ciro] Immobile…,” he added.
“He’s a great player and that’s why he’s in the squad.”
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