Barcelona take on Real Madrid tonight with La Liga bragging rights on the line; Liverpool face off against United in EPL
El Clasico not a title decider: Enrique
Barcelona: Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has insisted that his side’s crucial top of the table clash with Real Madrid today will not be the sole determining factor in the La Liga title race.
The Catalans lead Madrid by a point and are favourites to extend that advantage on home soil after a run of 17 wins in 18 games in all competitions.
However, with Barca still set to face the likes of Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla in the final 10 games of the season, Enrique believes there will be more twists and turns to come after this weekend.
“Independent of the result I don’t think it will be decisive,” Enrique said on Saturday. “There are still 10 games to go and there are too many difficult games for both teams, so it is not decisive but important.”
By contrast, Madrid come into the game having lost five of their 16 games in 2015 to relinquish pole position in the title race.
However, Enrique believes the array of talent on show for both sides means there can be no clear favourite on the night. “Generally, we have to think that in this type of game there aren’t favourites. There is a lot at stake and the two teams have players that are out of this world. Playing at home is important, though, because it can help in terms of motivation and intensity.”
Busquets could start
Barcelona could also be boosted by the presence of Sergio Busquets, who has made a quicker recovery than expected from a sprained ankle. The Spanish international trained with his teammates on Saturday, but Enrique refused to confirm whether he will start having been sidelined since suffering the injury against Villarreal on March 4.
“Busquets could be an option,” added Enrique. “He isn’t 100 percent which is normal. He has trained the past three days. He isn’t in perfect condition, but he is available which is important for us.”
Meanwhile, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti believes Barcelona are rightly favourites today.
“Being favourites or not depends on your form. At the moment Barca are in better form than us,” said the Italian on Saturday. “That aside, it is a very difficult game for both teams. We have confidence because this game gives us the opportunity to return to the top of the table.”
Meanwhile, Ancelotti dismissed suggestions that a heavy defeat like the 4-0 humiliation suffered away to Atletico Madrid last month could leave him fighting for his job. “I don’t feel like I have a lot at stake, but that it is an important match for the club and the Madrid fans.”
Ancelotti all but confirmed his starting line-up as early as after last weekend's 2-0 win over Levante with Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric making their returns in that victory from long-term muscle injuries. -- AFP
Reds, Utd face top-four crunch clash
London: Having inadvertently sparked Liverpool's mid-season rejuvenation with a 3-0 victory at Old Trafford in December, Manchester United visit Anfield in the Premier League on Sunday determined to suppress it.
Liverpool had taken only 21 points from a possible 45 prior to that trip to Manchester -- losing six of their first 12 games -- and the defeat left them 10 points below United in 10th place, seven points off the top four.
In the aftermath of a turbulent close season that saw Luis Suarez leave for Barcelona, it left manager Brendan Rodgers facing difficult questions about his capacity to take the team forward, but that bleak December day was to prove the catalyst for a spectacular turnaround.
They have gone 13 league games unbeaten since losing at United -- winning eight of their last nine fixtures -- and victory on Sunday would lift them above their fierce rivals and into the Champions League places.
It is a burst of form reminiscent of the spring surge that took them to within sight of last season's title, but striker Daniel Sturridge says that Liverpool will prepare for United's visit like any other game. “Of course, it’s a rivalry, but it’s another three points and we’ll just approach the game as we always do -- that’s the most important thing,” he told the Liverpool website.
Meanwhile, Man United manager Louis van Gaal said: “I want to win against them again. It's very important. I think every player knows the importance of this game. We are in a very crucial stage and cannot lose.”