Real Madrid v Barcelona preview: Guardiola warns troops to be ready for anything
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has said that his team will look to attack Real Madrid when the two Spanish giants clash in tonight’s Clasico game at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Barca go into the game knowing that a defeat will likely leave the Catalans nine points behind their title rivals during La Liga’s Christmas break, a lead which Madrid would be very unlikely to give up.
Guardiola said Barca always looked to take the game to their opponents, and tonight would be no different. “The points gap will not influence how we play,” he said. “We are going to the home of the league leaders and we will try and play the best game possible.
"Tomorrow will not be decisive, but there is a lot to play for. We will have to do many things well, be very quick, very alert to many things, circulate the ball quickly and find space.”
Guardiola has three wins and two draws from five trips to the Bernabéu as Barcelona coach, but the Catalan coach said he expected to face an improved Madrid side, who would not just sit back to defend.
“Madrid is stronger than last year because they know each other better,” he said. “They are physically very strong. I expect to see the Madrid of their recent games, more or less the same.
"We must defend well. It is not easy, they are a very intense team which put a lot of pressure on their opponents. Mourinho is a coach who is very prepared. We must be ready for anything.”
With his squad coming through training yesterday evening with no new injury concerns, six names are certainties for Guardiola’s team-sheet: Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Daniel Alves, Víctor Valdés, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernández - who is set to make his 600th appearance for the club.
Barca have often played with just three defenders this season, but Guardiola has hinted he would stick with four for tonight’s game. Gerard Piqué, who annoyed his coach by deliberately picking up a yellow card 10 days ago to ensure he would be free to play tonight, should nonetheless start.
Javier Mascherano perhaps gets the nod over Carlés Puyol as Piqué’s partner, with Eric Abidal at left-back. Barca’s midfield is more difficult to predict.
Seydou Keita offers a more physical presence, while Cesc Fábregas has settled back in impressively quickly since his summer return from Arsenal and has nine goals already.
Guardiola may also decide to push either Iniesta or Fábregas into his front-three, giving his side more tactical flexibility and ensuring they retain (even) more possession of the ball. This would leave David Villa, Alexis Sanchéz, Pedro Rodríguez and Isaac Cuenca fighting for the last place in the team.
Guardiola said he had yet to make up his mind which starting eleven to send out. “I still have some doubts which I will resolve tomorrow,” he said. “Cesc is a player who likes the big games, at a very young age he was the leader of a very important team (Arsenal). Alexis has returned from his injury and picked up the pace.”
Guardiola said his players were sure to rise to the occasion. “To play against Madrid is an honour,” he said. “I remember my first game at the Bernabéu. I marked (Emilio) Butragueño. Tomorrow our hands will sweat a little more than normal. We need to feel that tension, that is what energises us.”