‘Real only fo­cused on foot­ball’

Madrid coach Zi­dane not wor­ried about protests ahead of Wednesday’s El Cla­sico

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Madrid, Spain - Zine­dine Zi­dane has said he is not wor­ried about Wednesday's El Cla­sico be­tween Real Madrid and Barcelona be­ing over­shad­owed by Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence protests. The match kicks off at 11pm, Oman time.

The fix­ture was orig­i­nally sched­uled for Oc­to­ber 26 but had to be post­poned and there are re­newed fears of un­rest at Camp Nou, where Madrid and Barca will be play­ing for first place in Span­ish League.

"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."

Demo­cratic Tsunami, the protest group in favour of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence, has called pub­licly for its sup­port­ers to gather at the sta­dium four hours be­fore kick off. A large-scale safety op­er­a­tion will be de­ployed around the match in­volv­ing 3,000 se­cu­rity per­son­nel while both teams have been in­structed to travel to the sta­dium from the same ho­tel. "It's some­thing dif­fer­ent but the rules are the rules. They said we have to leave to­gether so we're leav­ing to­gether," said Zi­dane.

Zi­dane added: "We never thought this game would not go ahead. What we have to do is put all our en­ergy into the match be­cause the rest, we could spend a week talk­ing about it."

Barcelona and Real Madrid sit first and sec­ond in league and level on points, with Barca only ahead on goal-dif­fer­ence.

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."

"We will en­joy the Cla­sico what­ever hap­pens be­cause at the end of the day it's 11 vs 11, plus the changes, but we know what we're up against: a re­ally good team who have shown (how good) for a long time," Zi­dane said.

"We know they have Messi, but we also have our weapons and what I want is to play a good game."

As Madrid hit its stride in the league, Barcelona ac­cel­er­ated to keep up and the un­cer­tainty around Ernesto Valverde, although not gone, has, for now at least, faded.

Barca’s im­prove­ment can­not be en­tirely cred­ited to the re­turn of Messi, but his eight goals, in­clud­ing two hat-tricks, and four as­sists in six games have cer­tainly helped. An­toine Griez­mann is find­ing his feet too, with three goals in his last five.

"It is true we were strug­gling but we have also done things well," Valverde said last month. "Lead­ers in La Liga, first in our Cham­pi­ons League group. We have to fol­low our path."

Judge­ment on Zi­dane's sec­ond com­ing will be guided by Madrid's stay­ing power in the league while for Valverde, suc­cess will hinge on Europe, where re­cap­tur­ing the tro­phy af­ter four bar­ren sea­sons seems now to be the min­i­mum for Barcelona.

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

(AFP)

Real Madrid's coach Zine­dine Zi­dane (cen­tre) looks at his play­ers dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion in Madrid on Tues­day

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