Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti insists Sunday’s eagerly awaited clasico against Barcelona will not decide the destination of this season’s Primera Division title.
Madrid lost the first La Liga clash of the season against their Catalan rivals 2-1 at the Camp Nou in late October but are unbeaten in all competitions since, and go into this weekend’s game with a chance to stretch their lead over Barca in the table to seven points with just nine games remaining.
However, after Madrid eased past Schalke 9-2 on aggregate to reach the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday, Ancelotti told his postmatch news conference that nothing will be decided this weekend regardless of the result -- particularly as Atletico Madrid are still in the title race.
“For sure we are arriving in better form than the first meeting,” Ancelotti said in comments reported by the club’s official website. “I think that, in general, we are very excited about this team. We have improved a lot. The atmosphere is good and healthy. We are very excited and motivated.
“The match is very difficult, but we are confident. It will be an open game, but I do not think it will decide La Liga because Atletico are there too. I think this league will be decided in the last match. We have to play our best football because to beat Barcelona you have to play at 100 percent.”
Ancelotti suggested he would stick to the side which has impressed through recent months, with Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric in midfield, rather than seek to spring a surprise.
“Yes, of course I have decided on the XI,” Ancelotti said. “I don't think it is difficult. I am not going to complicate things. I'll make it easy for everyone.”
That will likely mean Sergio Ramos alongside Pepe in central defence, as opposed to the advanced midfield role in which the Spain international struggled at the Camp Nou.
Ramos told AS after the Schalke game that form book went out the window in games of this magnitude.
“The clasico is a different game and the form of either of the teams does not matter,” Ramos said. “We will ‘put all our meat on the grill’ to land a big blow in La Liga.”
Gareth Bale -- who provided another two assists against Schalke to take his total so far this term to 14 -- told his club’s official website that he and his teammates were full confidence at the moment but expect a tough game against Barca.
“We are playing well, with a lot of confidence and we're on a good run,” Bale said. “Now we have to prepare really well for the next match against Barcelona. They are a direct rival and we are going to try and put in a good performance and take the three points. They have very good players, but we are focused on our game and on our team because we also have very good players."
Alvaro Morata, who scored Madrid’s third against Schalke and could feature against Barcelona given Jese’s serious knee injury and Karim Benzema’s thigh problem, said the game was a 50-50 call.
“There is no favourite for this game. It is the best game in the world, with a lot of football played,” he told AS. “If we play as we know, we can win. It will not be decisive, not at all, but it will be important for what could happen in La Liga.”