Barcelona captain Carles Puyol believes Real Madrid are improving with every game ahead of today’s first Clasico of the season.
The two Spanish giants lock horns for the first time in this season’s Liga at Camp Nou, and Puyol thinks Carlo Ancelotti’s side can be devastating on the counter with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Angel Di Maria in their ranks.
“They’re playing better every time. We have to be vigilant against their counter-attacks — they’re very fast,” Puyol told a press conference.
The 35-year-old went on to defend the form of defensive partner Javier Mascherano, after the Argentine accepted the blame for Robinho’s opening goal in the midweek Champions League draw with AC Milan.
“He’s too demanding,” Puyol said of Mascherano. “He’s spent three seasons at the highest level. There are few central defenders in the world who can play like him. If we were to make a video of the number of times he has saved us, it would be very long.
“We have four defenders of the highest quality and with (Marc) Bartra we have a defender for many more years at Barca. I have always had a lot of confidence in him.”
Ancelotti hinted that Diego Lopez would retain his place in goal despite Iker Casillas starting in the Champions League against Juventus on Wednesday, and Puyol conceded he was not certain whether his international teammate would decide to stay with los Blancos in the long term.
“Madrid have two great goalkeepers and it is the coach who will decide. Iker is my friend, I don’t know if he will go, I’ve not spoken to him about that,” he added.
On the field, Barcelona will aim to beat arch-rivals Real Madrid in La Liga for the first time in almost two years in today’s Clasico.
The Catalan giants last won a league fixture against Real Madrid in December 2011, as they came from behind to win 3-1 in the Spanish capital. And although Copa del Rey and Supercopa wins have since followed, Barca will be determined to end a run that has seen them take just one point from their last three league meetings with Madrid.
Barca in fine form
Gerardo Martino’s table-toppers are the only side to avoid defeat in La Liga this term, having recorded eight wins and one draw.
They were held to a goalless stalemate at Osasuna last week but will hope a return to Camp Nou — where they have won their last 19 Liga matches — helps them return to winning ways.
Real Madrid sit third in La Liga, three points adrift of Barca, with their only loss of the season coming against neighbours Atletico Madrid last month. Both sides have new stars keen to make an impact in their first Clasico — Neymar, Bale, Isco and Asier Illarramendi — while coaches Martino and Carlo Ancelotti will also experience their first taste of Spain’s fiercest derby.
Focus on Neymar, Bale
While much attention will focus on the impact of the likes of Neymar and Bale — the latter having returned from a back injury against Malaga on Saturday and confirmed by Ancelotti as fit to feature — Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are more than likely to steal the show.
Widely regarded as the two best players on the planet, both have made an outstanding start to the current campaign, with Ronaldo’s brace in a 2-1 Champions League win over Juventus on Wednesday taking him to 15 goals from 12 appearances this season. Four-time World Player of the Year Messi, meanwhile, has 12 goals in nine outings.
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