Real, Barca target Clasico win to create gap ahead of winter break - GulfToday

Real, Barca target Clasico win to create gap ahead of winter break


Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale (centre), Ferland Mendy (right) and Karim Benzema (left) at a training session in Madrid on Tuesday, on the eve of their Spanish League match against Barcelona. Agence France-Presse

Zinedine Zidane and Ernesto Valverde might have been fearing for their jobs if they had lost a Clasico back in October but its postponement means that on Wednesday they can face each other feeling more secure.

Stalling in the autumn, Real Madrid and Barcelona have rolled through the gears in the lead-up to Christmas, meaning the winner of Wednesday’s crunch meeting at Camp Nou will move seven points clear of third place.

More importantly, in what increasingly looks like a two-pronged title chase, the winner will pull three ahead of the loser, with one round Liga matches left before the two-week winter break.

Yet even for the loser, providing defeat is not a humiliation, the consequences will not be so grave.

The gap in the table will be small and considering where both these teams were only a few weeks ago, when every week brought a new name linked with coaching jobs and every goal conceded planted another seed of doubt.

For Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho was out of work and in the public eye, his increasingly frequent media showings even appearing to irk the usually immoveable Zidane.

“Football forgets what you’ve done in the past,” said Zidane in October.

“I’m not going to tell you what they say doesn’t bother me because it bothers me, but I can’t prevent people giving their opinions.” For Barcelona, Ronald Koeman had surged into view after the Dutch Federation confirmed a clause in his contract that allows him to join Barca after Euro 2020 next summer.

But if the rumours were an irritation, form on the pitch was a real concern.

Barcelona’s malaise was short-lived. They won only two of their opening five games. Results improved but performances were ponderous and the weaknesses all-too familiar, the kind that had also gone unfixed before, only to prove costly later in the season.

In that sense, Valverde was carrying the weight of previous disappointments and he was blamed for a leaky defence, lack of style and failure to get the best out of Antoine Griezmann.

“At the start of the season, it’s not about winning one title, it’s about winning three or four,” said Valverde in November. “So the frustration when you don’t win a game is high.”

Zidane also shouldered burdens from last season. Even if it was not his team that limped its way through the final months, he was in charge and some wondered why nothing had changed.

Suspicions grew when Madrid drew two of their first four league games and were thrashed away at Paris Saint-Germain. When they lost away at newly-promoted Mallorca, a week before the Clasico was meant to be played, it felt like results might unravel.

“We must have consistency,” said Zidane. “We have to have more life in our game.”

Both teams have found form in recent weeks, in part due to the excellent form of their strikers. Madrid’s Karim Benzema has nine goals in his last eight games while Lionel Messi has scored 14 in 12.

“We know we are facing a very good team, we know the player they have in Messi, but we also have our weapons,” Zidane said.

Eden Hazard, Marcelo, James Rodriguez, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio will all miss the match through injury. Gareth Bale is fit again but has not started since Madrid’s win over Alaves on November 30.

“Bale is with us, he is training well,” Zidane said. “He is an important player and tomorrow, he will be prepared like everyone else.”

Storms may lie ahead but as La Liga approaches its halfway point, Zidane and Valverde are still intact. This Clasico is a battle of leaders, but survivors too.

Meanwhile, Zidane has said he is not worried about Wednesday’s Clasico between his team and Barcelona being overshadowed by Catalan independence protests.

The fixture was originally scheduled for Oct.26 but had to be postponed and there are renewed fears of unrest at Camp Nou.

“I am not worried about anything,” said Zidane in a press conference on Tuesday.

“I am happy we are about to play a Clasico. It was the same when I was a player, these are the matches you live for, and you are focused only on what happens on the field.”


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