Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta has declared this weekend’s Clasico clash a ‘must win’ for the Catalans if they are to retain any hope of claiming their 23rd La Liga title this season.
Trailing fierce rivals Real Madrid by 4 points, Iniesta and co. travel to the Bernabeu on Sunday fully aware that they can ill-afford another away day slip-up this season.
“The truth is that if we want to maximise our options of retaining the league title, we have to win at the Bernabeu,” Iniesta told Spanish radio station SER.
“Madrid are leaders and have some of the best players, but form doesn’t always count in these games.”
Recent form has been mixed for the Catalans, who produced masterful European performances to see off Manchester City in the Champions League, but have also lost their last two away fixtures domestically.
Their most recent fixture however saw them demolish Osasuna 7-0, with Iniesta himself returning to the scoresheet after enduring a tremendously difficult period in his personal life.
“When you’re having a hard time, feeling really down, you then realise all the affection that you get from people you don’t even know, and this gives you the strength to carry on. My wife, my family, we are all grateful for the affection we have received.”
Iniesta was of course speaking in the wake of his wife tragically suffering a miscarriage earlier this month, and was also keen to point out that some things are more important than fierce football rivalries.
“Yes, I have received messages of support from the Real Madrid players; some things are more important than a football match.”
Remaining on the Clasico rivalry, the 29 midfielder also believes the clash will likely be a less fiery and more eye-pleasing affair than it has been in recent years – perhaps linked to the exit of Jose Mourinho.
“They are always a difficult team to beat, but I don’t think that we’ll see the same tension of a few years back on the pitch,” he added. “It’ll be a war, but a footballing war and we mustn’t step over that line.”
This footballing war, always a headline showpiece during any European season, is setting up to be even more spectacular with the amount of attacking talent on display; with record-breaking Messi once again set to dual record-breaking Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Argentine number 10 has missed nine games already this season but has scored 18 goals in his 19 league matches – including a hat-trick last weekend – a phenomenal record for most, but pales in comparison to the 96 in 64 he scored over the previous two seasons. Still, becoming Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer with 371 goals this week, breaking the 80-year club record in the process, is nothing to be sniffed at.
Not to be outdone, Cristiano Ronaldo has hit 25 goals in 24 league matches this season for Real Madrid and looks set to break a record of his own. His two goals in Real’s 3-1 Champions League win over Schalke this week put him level with the legendary Ferenc Puskas on 242 goals for the Spanish giants.