Alvaro Arbeloa says his side are confident ahead of Saturday’s Clasico at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, as Real Madrid are coming into form just at the right time.
Madrid did not begin the season well under new coach Carlo Ancelotti -- but remain just three points behind Barca in La Liga, and have a 100 percent Champions League record after Wednesday’s controversial 2-1 group win over Juventus at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Arbeloa said this victory over the Serie A title holders, and also memories of Madrid’s recent results at the Camp Nou -- where they have two wins and two draws in their last five visits -- gave Los Blancos confidence ahead of the game.
“The match against Barcelona comes at a good time for us,” Arbeloa told reporters at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night. “We are improving and gaining confidence. We know it will be a very difficult match. I am sure that Barcelona will be at their best, but in recent matches in the Camp Nou we have got good results and put in some great performances.”
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has some selection decisions to make ahead of the weekend -- one of which is whether to freshen up his side by giving Gareth Bale his first start since early September.
Bale played the last quarter hour against Juventus, making little impression on proceedings and still looking less than fully match fit, but the Italian boss said he would have no worries playing the Wales winger from the start at the Camp Nou.
“The game was lacking intensity [when Bale came on],” Ancelotti said. “It is important for him to get minutes and his fitness has improved. He is ready to start games. He likes playing [on the right], and when he plays it will be there.”
New blaugrana attacker Neymar, who has settled much quicker than his fellow summer signing Bale, told Barca TV that he was really looking forward to his first Clasico and hopefully a win.
“The Clasico is the most important game for any player,” Neymar. “It is the match every player wants to play in, it is the game where each player wants to play his best football. This will be my first Clasico and I hope to have a great debut, preferably with a victory.”
The Brazilian, 21, said his earliest Clasico memory was Barca’s 3-0 win at the Bernabeu in November 2005 when Ronaldinho was memorably applauded from the field by the Madrid fans.
“I remember the Clasico, I believe it was in 2005, when Ronaldinho scored two goals,” Neymar said. “That is the Barca vs. Madrid match I remember most.”
Players enjoy these occasions, Neymar revealed, while saying he had been joking about the game with his Brazil colleague and Madrid left-back Marcelo in recent days.
“We have talked a little bit about the Clasico,” he said. “We have a fantastic relationship, he’s a good friend, but I told him that Barcelona are going to win. Even the players from opposing teams who are friends joke about the match, and end up making bets. It is the most fun thing about football.”