Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti mixed reality with confidence at his press conference ahead of Sunday's clash with Barcelona in the Clasico, conscious that there's much at stake for both teams, beyond the obvious desire to simply win the game itself.
On the eve of Spanish football's most prestigious encounter, addressing the question of whether Barcelona or Real Madrid are favourites to claim the points (via translations per Inside Spanish Football), Ancelotti responded with a realistic tone, based on the current league position and recent results: “Being the favourites or not depends on the run of form the teams are in. In that regard, theirs is better than ours.” He then added with certainty: “Beyond that, it’s a difficult game for both teams. We have plenty of confidence for this game though, because it’s a great opportunity for us. Winning would put us back on top of La Liga.”
On Friday, Real Madrid discovered they must face a European derby with Atlético Madrid in the Champions League, after the draw paired the two sides together in a repeat of last year's final. Quizzed if that game takes a step above the Clasico in terms of importance for Los Blancos, Ancelotti underlined: “Every game now is very important."
Focusing purely on the most immediate challenge his team must confront, in terms of how decisive either game will be when it comes to Real Madrid challenging for silverware, Ancelotti pondered of the Clasico clash with Barcelona: "I don’t think this one will be as decisive as the two games against Atlético Madrid will be in the Champions League, although this is a different competition and whilst either team could take an advantage, I don’t think it will be a decisive one.”
There's no disputing just how important winning a Clasico is for the respective clubs, the players and, most importantly, their fans. Ancelotti acknowledged: “This is a special game for everyone. We’re facing a great team, we’re reaching an important stage of the season and we’ve prepared ourselves especially well for this game. The atmosphere for this game is different compared to any other.”
Amid the stellar array of talent on display on Sunday, there are many factors which could decant the game in favour of one team or the other. Offering his thoughts regarding which will be the key factors that could dictate the result, the Italian coach observed: “Each team has their style of play and the aim for us is to impose our own. Our aim is to put our own characteristics on display. We’ll need to play the best game we possibly can in defence and attack.”
Of course, there has been a media frenzy in Spain of late, with Ancelotti and his team the subject of intense scrutiny. Every performance, every result and his own ways of managing the team being dissected in the daily sports papers. The 55-year-old remains satisfied with his methods, however, and his level of patience.
He added: “It’s a part of my personality, although the atmosphere here hasn't helped. It’s said my patience is unlimited, but it does have its limits. In this world you need to keep a cool head in relation to the press, with the club, with the players and that’s how you need to prepare for games. You also have to keep thinking positively, especially with these players. We haven’t played so well recently, but our confidence remains the same.”
As for whether his job is at risk if Real Madrid fail to beat Barcelona this Sunday, thus reducing the chances of his side winning La Liga, Ancelotti suggested: “I don’t feel as though my job is at stake, but rather that it’s a very important game for Madrid fans and for the club. That will be the same for Barcelona. We’re both teams with a global image and we have to present the best version of ourselves.”
With a strong sense of enthusiasm, Ancelotti then highlighted: “I enjoy my work and that I’m coaching the most important team in the world. I feel honoured to be involved in games like these and it’s something that doesn’t happen often during a career. I’d happily pay to watch a game like this.”
Cristiano Ronaldo has also had to endure his fare share of scrutiny over recent weeks, with his outbursts to the media, offensive comments to fans and a general air of frustration about his performances. However, his manager assured: “He’s had a good week and has trained well. He’s ready, like everyone else. He’s not lacking in either attitude or concentration. Maybe he’s not been at his absolute best, but he saved us in the Champions League.”
Amid accusations that former Tottenham star Gareth Bale isn't matching up to the huge fee that brought him to Real Madrid, there was continued backing for the Welshman from Ancelotti, who pointed out: “One player doesn't have more responsibility than the rest. I ask of him the same as I ask of everyone else: Defend as a team and attack as a team.”
There has also been some debate among pundits in Spain about whether Bale might operate better playing in a more central role. When probed about that, a somewhat perplexed Ancelotti responded incredulously: “He’s never played in central midfield!”
Finally, and quizzed if a win against Barcelona isn't possible on Sunday would he settle for Real Madrid leaving the Camp Nou with a point for their efforts, Ancelotti firmly concluded: “I’ve never settled for a draw in my entire career, so I’m not about to do so now. We have enough quality to win this game.”