Real coach Julen Lopetegui has come in for fierce criticism this season, having presided over a run of five games without a win - the team going eight hours and one minute without scoring - before Tuesday’s unconvincing 2-1 triumph over Viktoria Plzen that saw the team whistled off the pitch by its own fans.
Local media reports suggest that any sort of negative result away to its great rival could spell the end for the 52-year-old at the Bernabeu. “We haven’t always won when we deserved to, but football is like that,” Lopetegui said. “We came from a run of quite a lot of games without winning and the objective was to win in circumstances that were not at all simple. We need to gain a little tranquillity bit by bit: we have to keep going. On Sunday, we have a game that motivates us a huge amount.”
Barca, which will be without the injured Messi, sits on top of La Liga on 18 points, just one ahead of the chasing pack in what is shaping up to be the tightest title race in years. The Argentinean has been in scintillating form this season, scoring seven and laying on another five goals in Spain’s top flight, while also hitting five in the Champions League. Criticism has been levelled at the Catalan side that in recent times it has become too reliant on its talisman and it now faces the ultimate test to show it can function with Messi sidelined, too.
“We always want to play as a team, but when Messi is there, he gives us a touch of brilliance that is extraordinary,” coach Ernesto Valverde said. “Of course we miss him, but we want to miss him while winning. Messi often gets us out of jail in difficult games against low blocks and obviously we want him to get better as soon as possible. Madrid will be such as dangerous opponent. Lopetegui’s side will come here and looking to show its strength and I’m not taking anything for granted.”
What Steve Mcmanaman thinks of the Clasico
At Camp Nou, there are 1,00,000 people at the stadium and at Berbebeu, there were 80,000 people. The Spanish teams have been so successful over the years, with dominance in European competitions. They’ve had the best players, they’ve got world-class players playing every single year barring a couple of years. So it’s not only about Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi’s personal duel. These are the teams that everybody wants to emulate, these are the teams that everybody wants to beat so rightly, this game is on the pedestal as it is the biggest club game in the world.