Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman believes that some of the criticism that Real Madrid have received has been unwarranted.
Ahead of Saturday night’s Clasico, the Dutchman highlighted the fact that Los Blancos are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, with one foot in the semi-finals after a 3-1 win over Liverpool in midweek, and are just three points off top spot in LaLiga Santander.
“A Clasico is a different game to the others. Barcelona are doing well, [we] are on a good run, we are fighting to win,” Koeman said during Friday’s pre-Clasico press conference.
“Madrid have had too much criticism; they are in the Champions League and fighting for LaLiga. I’m not a supporter of the people who have criticised [them]. They have great players and it’s a great match. Both teams know the importance of winning.”
Saying that, Koeman does not think that Saturday’s match will have a direct impact on the destination of the LaLiga Santander title.
“The result is not decisive, because after tomorrow’s game we still have many games to go and it’s difficult for any team to win all their matches,” Koeman explained.
“The team that wins [the Clasico] will have an important morale boost to build on.”
Reflecting on the first Clasico between the two sides, which Los Blancos won 3-1 at the Camp Nou, Koeman believes that Barcelona have improved a lot of things since then.
“We were better [in the first Clasico], especially before half time, then of course we lost the game in the second half,” he noted.
“The VAR with that penalty had an influence on the result, but it’s not true that we were bad at that time and now we are much better.
“The team has had chances all season, we have improved our finishing, in defence, the system we changed during the game… We don’t have to go crazy because it’s Madrid, we have to play our own game, [do] our own things.”
Clearly Lionel Messi will play an important role if Barcelona are to come away from the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano with a positive result, but the Dutch coach also expects to see the rest of his players at their best.
“We need the best Messi [to win], but we need the best Barcelona,” Koeman stated.
“We have to do things perfectly well, with our attack, passes, moves…”
Real Madrid are without Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, but Koeman thought that Los Blancos coped without them well against Liverpool.
“For them they are important absentees,” he commented.
“We have absentees too – Sergi Roberto and [Gerard] Pique have been out for a while – but yes, they are two important and very good centre-backs, and one of them is also their captain, who gives them a lot of personality.
“But in the game against Liverpool they showed that they have other players who can play in those positions.”