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'Clasico': Zidane admits Real's vulnerability

February 29, 2020 20:47 IST
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Real Madrid

IMAGE: Zinedine Zidane's side held a three-point lead over Barca at the top of the table two weeks ago but defeat by the Catalans would leave them five points behind them with 12 games remaining. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said his side are in a delicate situation as they prepare to host arch-rivals Barcelona in a La Liga title showdown on Sunday amid a downward spiral of results which has left their season in limbo.

Zidane's side held a three-point lead over Barca at the top of the table two weeks ago but defeat by the Catalans would leave them five points behind them with 12 games remaining.

 

What looked to be a highly promising campaign has unravelled with a run of only one win in their last five games, in which Real have dropped points against Levante and Celta Vigo and been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Real Sociedad.

Their hopes of remaining in the Champions League are hanging by a thread after Wednesday's last-16 first leg against Manchester City in which they conceded two late goals to lose 2-1 at home.

"This is a delicate time for us because we have not won the last three games in our stadium, but we know things like this can happen and we have to keep a positive mindset," Zidane told a news conference ahead of Sunday's 'Clasico'.

"We will only come out of this situation by staying strong and by not listening to what people say about us.

"We will need our fans on our side from the first to last minute. I can understand why our fans are upset but we need them and they need us and at the very least we will give everything on the pitch."

Real are without injured forwards Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard plus the suspended Rodrygo but French defender Ferland Mendy will return after he was rested in last week's loss to Levante to ensure he would not be suspended against Barca.

This is the second moment of reckoning for Zidane this season after a heavy defeat by Paris St Germain in September and a loss to Mallorca in October left him fighting for his job.

The team responded by tightening up their defence and going on an unbeaten run of 21 matches, although Zidane warned last month that it would only take a couple of bad results for him to be back in the firing line.

"I said if we lost two games I would get criticised and that is what is happening. All I can do is keep fighting with my players," he added.

"My players are the best around and we're going to try and turn things around. It's a delicate situation but we're going to try and win something."

Clasico more important to Real than Barca: Setien

Barcelona coach Quique Setien believes Real Madrid are under greater pressure than his side heading into Sunday's 'Clasico', which could go a long way to determining who wins the Spanish title.

Barca have lifted eight of the last 11 La Liga crowns and go into Sunday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu with a two-point lead over Real, who are smarting from consecutive defeats by Levante and Manchester City.

"For Real Madrid this game is vital and much more important than it is for us. It is a key and decisive game for them, it's also important for us but perhaps not as important," Setien told a news conference on Saturday.

"It could be a very important day, a victory would give us a lead of five points but in these games the past is quickly forgotten about. I expect a very close game, we'll see who deserves to win it more."

Setien has been boosted by the return of left back Jordi Alba from injury while Gerard Pique has made a quick recovery after rolling his ankle in Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Napoli in the Champions League.

Long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez mean he will either field 17-year-old Ansu Fati or new signing Martin Braithwaite in attack alongside Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi, who has scored a record 26 times in the fixture.

The 61-year-old Setien has never coached in Spain's flagship game before but has a strong record at the Bernabeu, overseeing two victories there as coach of Real Betis.

The Catalans also have a remarkable record in recent matches at the home of their eternal rivals, winning their last four league games at the Bernabeu.

"I have always been aware of the importance of the 'Clasico' when I've been watching it from my sofa or in the stadium. If we win I'll be happier for the fans than for myself, I'm aware of the responsibility I have," Setien said.

"I would love to continue the great run that I and the club have there, although you can never go to the Bernabeu feeling relaxed. Real Madrid are always dangerous and perhaps even more when they are in situations like this."

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