Only win will do for Barca in 'Classico' showdown
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Barcelona go into Sunday’s ‘Classico’ against Madrid knowing that they must defeat their fiercest rivals if the Catalan giants are to have any realistic chance of retaining their La Liga title, coach Gerardo Martino has admitted.
Three defeats in their last seven La Liga games have left Barca in third place, four points behind leaders Madrid and one point behind Atletico with just 10 games remaining.
And with Real having not lost in any competition since the sides last met in October, Martino knows Barca have a unique opportunity to get themselves back into the title race with a win in the Spanish capital.
"I think it is probably the last chance we will have because after this game there are only nine games left and it is not the same thing to come back from one point behind to four or seven," he said on Saturday.
A draw will not be enough, Martino said.
"I don't think a draw is a good result for us. The circumstances of the game always indicate whether it is a good result or not as well, but I think it is clear that we need to win the game tomorrow."
But Barca, who have won just one of five league games on the road in 2014, including defeats at Real Sociedad and Valladolid, know they must improve their away form if they are to come away from Madrid with all three points.
"It is true that there have been games away from home where we have not played well, but there have also been some important ones where we have,” said Martino, referring to his side’s 2-0 win away to Manchester City in last month’s Champions League tie.
"We have to think more about what we did in Manchester than what we did in Valladolid and try to aim for that type of performance."
Neymar set to start
Brazilian star Neymar is expected to be recalled by Martino despite the fine form shown by Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez in Barca's 7-0 destruction of Osasuna last weekend.
The forward, signed for a reported fee of €57 million in the summer, has had an underwhelming first season in Spain with controversy over his transfer from Santos dominating the headlines rather than his performances on the field.
Yet, Martino insisted that the 22-year-old has nothing to prove.
"Firstly, I think he played very well against Manchester City in the second leg and, secondly, I will reaffirm what I have said many times that Neymar is one of the top five players in the world.
"I don't need to see one match, half a match, nor even 10 matches to confirm the qualities that he has. I don't think it will be long before people stop talking about him like just another player because he isn't."
Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti said it made no difference to his pre-match preparation whether Neymar started ahead of Pedro or Sanchez for the visitors at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, he is backing Gareth Bale to outshine the Brazilian in the battle of last summer's big-money buys.
Bale was a peripheral figure as Neymar stole the show in Barca's 2-1 win over Real last October, but having recovered top form and fitness, Ancelotti believes the Welshman will make a big impact.
"He is in good shape. His physical condition is very important for him and I am sure he will play very well," said the Italian.
"He is in really good condition and we are very happy with him. He had some problems at the start of the season but now he is looking good and we hope that will continue until the end of the season."
Ancelotti also confirmed that Karim Benzema has recovered from the bruised thigh that kept him out of Wednesday's 3-1 win over Schalke.
The Frenchman's return means he will be join Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo in attack as the trio look to add to the 76 goals they have scored in all competitions so far this season.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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