Andres Iniesta says Barcelona will need to produce a performance that is close to perfection if they are to beat Real Madrid in El Clasico.
Saturday’s clash at the Santiago Bernabeu is set up perfectly, with the sides first and second in La Liga and hoping to have fully fit squads available.
Sergio Ramos is expected to play through the pain barrier with a shoulder problem for hosts Madrid, who have recently welcomed back Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez to fitness.
Barca have been without Lionel Messi with a knee problem since September, but their Argentine talisman looks increasingly likely to be passed fit, as does Ivan Rakitic (calf).
Iniesta will captain his side against Madrid for the first time and is targeting an away victory that would move them six points clear of their fierce rivals at the top of La Liga.
“These are very unpredictable games, two teams with the kind of player who can change a game at any moment,” he said.
“If there is one thing we need to be clear about it is ourselves. We have our idea of playing football, we have our way of organising our play and we shouldn’t make any mistakes which give them a chance.
“Let’s just hope it is a great spectacle and that we play a great game as that would be a big step towards getting a good result. It is my first Clasico as captain but there is no need to motivate people for this game.
“We have to play a game which is practically perfect, as they can cause us damage too. We have to play well to counter their game.
“But rather than thinking about what Real Madrid do, we have to be clear that we have to be the protagonists, dominate and take the chances we get while minimising the mistakes we make.”
Madrid come into the game under pressure. Rafael Benitez’s performance as head coach has come under scrutiny amid a slump in form from star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who has only netted in four of his side’s 11 league games in 2015-16.
Defeat to Sevilla last time out was Madrid’s first in the league this season and the returning Bale hopes he can make a positive impact in such a crucial contest, as he did in the Copa del Rey final between the sides in 2014.
He said to bwin: “The goal against Barca in the Copa del Rey is among my most favourite of my career and it is one that will be etched in my memory for a long time.
“My speed and strength make it hard for defenders, so that is always a plus for us. I have to keep giving my very best and training hard in order to help the team win.
“We are on a good run of form and have only lost one match so far, although there is room for improvement. I hope we improve over the course of the season and go on to win the title.
“I have been out with injuries for maybe six weeks now, so I haven’t played as much as I would have liked but I feel strong and fit going into this game.”
The home side has won in three of the last five league Clasicos, with Luis Suarez netting the winner in a 2-1 win for Barca at Camp Nou in the last meeting in March.
Key Opta stats:
– Each of the last nine Clasicos in La Liga have seen both sides score, the longest such run since 1946-1952 (13 games in a row).
– Real Madrid have gone 22 La Liga home games in a row unbeaten (W19 D3) and they have just conceded one goal in their last five there.
– In their last league game against Sevilla, Real Madrid conceded three goals – only one fewer than the total goals they conceded in each of previous 10 games combined (four).
– Real Madrid have only won two of their last seven La Liga home games against Barcelona (D1 L4).
– In all competitions, Real have three wins in the last 12 home games against Barca (D3 L6).
– Luis Enrique’s team has lost two of their last three La Liga away games (W1).
– Rafa Benitez has lost six of his 10 games as manager in La Liga against Barcelona (W3 D1).
– Barcelona have won more penalties than any other team in the Top 5 European Leagues this season (eight).
– If Messi scores in this game, he would become El Clasico top scorer in La Liga (he currently has 14 goals, level with Di Stefano).
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