‘Real only focused on football’
Madrid coach Zidane not worried about protests ahead of Wednesday’s El Clasico
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.
Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane (centre) looks at his players during a training session in Madrid on Tuesday