Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman acknowledged the importance of Sunday’s showdown with Real Madrid but insisted he does not feel under any additional pressure to win the match.
Barca head into the first Clasico of the season on the back of victories over Valencia and Dynamo Kiev in LaLiga and the Champions League respectively.
It is the first time this season the Catalans have won successive games and has eased the pressure on Koeman, who has the public backing of president Joan Laporta.
But Koeman’s side are paying for a slow start to the campaign as they are down in seventh, two points behind Madrid and five off leaders Real Sociedad with a game in hand.
The Dutchman is no stranger to arguably the most famous fixture in football, having enjoyed a hugely successful stint at Barca as a player, and is aware of the magnitude of Sunday’s clash.
“I’m not under any more pressure. Being a Barca coach, I know the importance of what is ahead,” he said at Saturday’s pre-match news conference.
“I have lost and won Clasicos as a player. It is my first as a coach with an audience, which makes it different. I’m hopeful of winning the game.
“Winning is important as it would help us continue to build confidence with all the changes we made and the youngsters that are emerging.
“We work together to improve on the field. I don’t feel like this is an exam for us, but it is a Clasico and we have to prove ourselves.”
Laporta said ahead of the 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid on October 2 that Koeman deserved time to turn things around in what is just his second season at Camp Nou.
Asked if he still feels the support of his president, Koeman said: “I don’t have to be told every day that I will continue in the job.
“I feel supported but I know everything depends on results. It’s not about a single game, though this is an important week ahead of us and we must be prepared.
Barca have not won any of their last four LaLiga games against Madrid and have lost the last three Clasicos in all competitions – not since 1965 have they lost more in a row.
The Catalans could find themselves five points behind Madrid with a defeat, though a victory would see them overtake their bitter rivals.
“We enter the game in a good mood thanks to two victories,” Koeman said. “There is a lot of enthusiasm to play and show our fans we want to win.
“A win in a Clasico can make a lot of difference between the good or bad. We know it’s one of the most important games, but there is a long season still ahead.
“We can show we are on the right track, making a positive result very important. We have to play without fear and show our desire to win from the start.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 23, 2021
While results have improved for Barca, Madrid have collected just one point from their last two league matches and risk losing successive LaLiga games for the first time since 2018-19.
“I’m a Barca coach, so it is difficult to answer, but I don’t see a clear favourite,” Koeman said when asked if there is anything to separate the two heavyweights.
“There is a difference in terms of experience, but we also have some experienced players in our squad, while they have some young players, so we are more or less the same.
“There are areas in which they are better than us and others in which we are better than them. We are playing at home and can have no fear. We want to show we’re a good team.”
Koeman confirmed Jordi Alba is available for selection despite sustaining a knock against Dynamo Kiev, but Pedri, Ronald Araujo, Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele are not part of the squad.
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