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Barcelona optimistic before 'El Clasico'

©

Video by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2008-12-14

With Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league and having the advantage of playing at home against rivals Real Madrid, who got a new coach just earlier this week, the Catalans would appear to have the advantage going into 'El Clasico'.

AFP - New Real Madrid manager Juande Ramos faces a real baptism of fire in his first league match in charge with the struggling double champions travelling to Barcelona's Camp Nou on Saturday night.

If Barcelona win the league leaders will extend their advantage over Real to 12 points heading into the Christmas break and surely all but end Real’s hopes of a third successive league crown.

Ramos, who started with a 3-0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg in Tuesday's Champions League match, has a chance to endear himself to the Real supporters by dragging their stumbling side back into the title race.

Former coach Bernd Schuster caused a stir after last weekend’s 4-3 defeat by Sevilla saying Real couldn’t win at Camp Nou and it proved the final straw as the club ended his 18-month reign and quickly installed Ramos as his successor on an initial six-month deal.

"Barcelona are playing really well but Madrid is playing well enough to not to give up on the thought of winning at any ground in the world," Ramos said. "This is the dream of every coach, I hope I don't disappoint anybody."

Ramos had a torrid time at Tottenham Hotspur but his back-to-back UEFA Cup victories with Sevilla in 2006 and 2007 have not been forgotten in Spain.

It means both Real and Barca have changed coaches since the last Clasico at the beginning of May with Ramos and Pep Guardiola set to experience the match for the first time although the latter witnessed several as a player.

Barcelona may be top of the table, six points clear of Villarreal, but they have failed to beat Real in their last four meetings and are haunted by the memories of the last clash when they had to do a guard of honour at the Santiago Bernabeu to salute Real as champions and then crashed to a 4-1 loss.

"We want to beat Real Madrid and are always motivated to do it. We don’t need to remember the guard of honour," said Barcelona midfielder Xavi.

"Two years ago Real were in a similar situation to now and ended up winning the title so we are focused."

It is a complete u-turn from last season when Real had a four-point lead at the top and opened up a seven-point cushion with a 1-0 victory at Camp Nou and Barcelona forward Thierry Henry wants revenge.

"I will be going out there to win," said Henry. "I don't care if Madrid are in crisis, if they have been losing or if they have a lot of injured players.

"In last season's game we had out own problems but nobody cried for Barca and now we are not going to cry for Madrid."

Real are ravaged by injuries, with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mahamadou Diarra out for the season, and both Dutch winger Arjen Robben and Brazilian left back Marcelo are missing through suspension.

Barcelona are also unbeaten in the league since losing to Numancia on the opening day of the season and had the luxury of resting key players during their midweek Champions League match having already qualified as group winners.

In contrast Real have lost three out of their last four league matches to Valladolid, Getafe and Sevilla but captain Raul said the champions still had the firepower to hurt Barca.

"If there is one team that can hurt Barcelona on their own ground it is Real Madrid," said Raul.

All eyes will be on El Clasico but Sevilla host second-placed Villarreal, two points ahead of them in the standings, in a top of the table encounter on Sunday.

Ramos’s successor at Sevilla, Manolo Jimenez, hopes to build on the 4-3 win at the Bernabeu by upending another title contender in Villarreal.

"We have had a lot of injuries but are still in the top five which shows the quality of our squad," said defender Julien Escude. "Our fans get behind us at home and we are never happy with a draw."

Valencia, eight points behind the leaders after losing 4-0 at Barcelona last time out, host Espanyol on Saturday looking to get their season back on track.

All the talk has surrounded Valencia's apparent financial troubles with speculation that their superstars such as David Villa or Daniel Silva could be sold to pay off debt.

Date created : 2008-12-13

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