21:00 +00:00, December 10, 2011
Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
Real Madrid vs Barcelona
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Karanka: Just another game
Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka has played down the importance of the first Clasico of the season and insisted the Primera Division leaders will not alter their approach to end Barcelona’s recent superiority in the fixture.
Madrid have won their last 10 La Liga games, 15 in all competitions, and go into the fixture looking down on their arch rivals. They have a three-point advantage at the summit and a game in hand.
But when they go head to head it is invariably the Catalans who come out on top – Barca have lost only one of their 11 meetings since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2008 and have never lost under his stewardship at the Bernabeu.
It all adds up to another tasty encounter although Karanka, standing in for Jose Mourinho, claimed it was just another game.
The one-time Spain defender told reporters at a press conference: “We are in good shape. It is just one more game and we will not change our way of doing things.”It is true they are a direct rival but that does not change anything. There are three points at stake and that will not change.”
Madrid could be forgiven for having conflicting thoughts ahead of the game. A draw would preserve their advantage, a win would put them in a very strong position even at this early stage while a defeat would see Barca regain a foothold in the title race before they head off to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
Karanka, however, is clear how Madrid will approach a game which will be viewed worldwide.
“We did not go for the draw against Ajax (in the Champions League in midweek). We went out to win even though we had already qualified,” he said.
“It is clear that if we win our position will improve but that will not change the way we work.”
Karanka said Madrid would adopt an attacking formation – confirming the belief that the best way to beat Barca is by getting at their sometimes suspect defence.
“Let’s play to win with a 4-3-3 formation with Cristiano (Ronaldo) and (Angel) Di Maria in support of (Karim) Benzema or (Gonzalo) Higuain,” he said.
“In the centre we have several options and it is important that the 11 are right for this game.”
Madrid’s only absentee is the injured Ricardo Carvalho while Mourinho’s main selection dilemma concerns whether to go for Benzema or Higuain in attack.
Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta talked up his own team before the contest, declaring them the best Barca side he has ever played in.
The 27-year-old, whose goal handed Spain victory over Holland in the 2010 World Cup final, told www.fifa.com: “I believe this is the best Barca team I’ve ever played in.
“That’s down to the way our play evolves, with the teams getting stronger every year. The challenge facing us is to improve day after day, year after year, something we’ve done in every respect – tactically, physically and technically. That’s the way it has to be in football.
“The team of 2006 were better than the class of 2001, and this year’s team are the best yet.”
On the debate over Barca’s formation – Guardiola has varied between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 this season – Iniesta is comfortable with both and puts that down to the schooling he received at the club’s famed La Masia academy.
“We try to work on variations in so far as we can, because we have so many games,” said Iniesta.
“We take advantage of training games and even official matches [to work on these].
“This familiarity means we can adapt to it quite naturally. Having tactical alternatives for any given match scenario or opponent is important.”
Guardiola, however, is likely to err on the side of caution and revert to four at the back, although one of the centre-halves could be Javier Mascherano, who is more accustomed to playing in a midfield role.
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