Sergio Ramos says that given the choice of removing one player from Barcelona’s team for Sunday’s La Liga clasico he would pick Andres Iniesta.
Madrid come into the game at their Estadio Santiago Bernabeu as league leaders and favourites, with many Blaugrana fans hopes resting on something special from talisman Lionel Messi, who warmed up with a hat trick in last weekend’s 7-0 win over Osasuna.
Nevertheless Ramos told El Partido de las 12 that for him the key player for Barcelona was his Spain colleague Iniesta.
“[I’d take out] Iniesta,” Ramos said. “Barca is not just Messi, although you must be especially careful with him.”
With Madrid now 31 games unbeaten in all competitions, Ramos said the mood among both fans and players at the Bernabeu was much better than it had been in previous seasons.
“I can feel now an affection that was lost or hidden,” he said. “The fans seemed to be divided, we did not know why because in the dressing room we are the same players. Our players are acting the same way but it is seen differently. It is true there was, by age, hierarchies in the dressing room, but never cliques.”
Ramos needs just a Champions League trophy to complete a full set of top club and country honours, but his abrasive style of play can often bring negative attention from both referees and pundits. The 27-year-old said that he would probably take a tenth European Cup -- La Decima -- for Real Madrid this season over a second consecutive World Cup with Spain, but either way he felt his critics were in the wrong.
“Speaking today, I would prefer to win la Decima,” Ramos said. “If it is both, I will make a personal note for those who criticise me. My critics can take a look at the trophies I have won. In the end I will be the one who is laughing.”
Meanwhile, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has welcomed back both Karim Benzema and Pepe to full training and both look set to start on Sunday.
Benzema had been a major doubt after missing Tuesday’s 3-1 Champions League win over Schalke with a thigh problem, while Pepe had reportedly been suffering from an allergy earlier this week.
A club statement released after training on Thursday said the pair were both over their respective issues.
“The Whites, who this Thursday had their second training session of the week, were greeted with good news as Karim Benzema and Pepe both made recoveries from their injuries,” the statement said.
“With all eyes on Sunday's La Liga game in the Santiago Bernabéu against Barcelona, from a strictly sporting standpoint having both of these players available again is a big bonus. As such, Carlo Ancelotti regains two very important members of his squad. The French striker has scored in the last two clasicos against Barcelona. Meanwhile, the Portuguese defender makes up a rock solid defence alongside Sergio Ramos and, together with Varane and Nacho, has been in excellent form for Real Madrid.”
AS reported from Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground that both Cristiano Ronaldo [precaution] and Angel Di Maria [flu] did not take a full part in training on Thursday, but both are expected to be fine to start on Sunday.