Barcelona defender Gerard Pique insists his side are favourites to win tomorrow night’s ‘Clasico’ against fierce rivals Real Madrid.Pique is now in his third year at Barca and in that time, the Catalans have beaten Madrid in all four meetings.The Spain defender has featured in three of those and scored in his side’s famous 6-2 win at the Santiago Bernabeu two seasons ago.
Madrid are a much improved outfit this term and remain unbeaten under Jose Mourinho, who took over from former coach Manuel Pellegrini in the summer.
After 12 rounds of Primera Division matches, Madrid lead Barca by a single point, but the Catalans are at home tomorrow and Pique believes they will have the edge at the Nou Camp.
“A ‘Clasico’ is so even that playing at home always makes the home side more of a favourite – and that’s us this time,” he said at an event organised by Nike yesterday.
“Nobody can predict what will happen in these type of games,” he added. “But we are in good shape.”
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho makes a controversial return to the Nou Camp – where he was an assistant to Bobby Robson and later Louis van Gaal – for the first time as boss of Barca’s arch enemies.
The Portuguese has become something of a hate figure at Barca in recent years, having continually provoked the Catalan fans and staff in the media.
Mourinho famously led Inter Milan to a 3-2 aggregate win over Guardiola’s side in the Champions League semi-finals last season, denying Barca a place in the showpiece at the Santiago Bernabeu, a date he claimed the Catalans had become obsessed with.
But Pique played down the importance of Mourinho’s return and hopes there will be no repeat of the ugly scenes which greeted Luis Figo following his controversial switch from Barca to Madrid in 2000, when the former Portugal winger was targeted by the Catalan fans and had a pig’s head thrown at him while he was taking a corner.
“Nobody liked the image of the pig’s head at the Nou Camp,” he said. “I hope nothing like that happens in Monday’s ‘Clasico’.
“We can’t control what people think about him (Mourinho), but we shouldn’t give him more protagonism than he already has – which is already a lot.”
Pique will also hope to keep another Portuguese quiet tomorrow as he comes up against in-form Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
“We will try not to let him think or give him any space. We want to try to make sure he has a quiet day,” he said.
Ronaldo, a former team-mate of Pique at Manchester United, ended up on the losing side in both ‘Clasicos’ last season and has never scored a goal against Barca.
The winger hopes that statistic will change tomorrow, but says a Madrid win is more important. “I want to score against everyone, not just Barca,” he said.
“Is it special? Yes, it would be, but whether I score or not is not important, only that the team wins – I’m not obsessed with scoring goals.”
Ronaldo believes Madrid are in good shape ahead of tomorrow’s game.
“We haven’t lost this season, and this is important because it gives you confidence, but neither can we be relaxed because we know it will be difficult,” he said.
“I’m confident because the team are in good form, the coach has given us confidence and we hope to get a good result.”
Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira are expected to return for Madrid after missing the club’s 4-0 Champions League win at Ajax on Wednesday, but Kaka and Fernando Gago remain sidelined.
Barca defender Gabi Milito is still injured and will play no part, but Guardiola has an otherwise full-strength squad available.