Respect was the watchword for players of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF ahead of the teams' 159th Liga meeting in the game known as 'El Clásico'.
Having gained three points from their encounter with Real Racing Club last weekend and with Barça only managing a draw away to Athletic Club Bilbao, Manuel Pellegrini's side replaced their great rivals at the top of the league standings. Speaking ahead of Sunday evening's meeting at Camp Nou, Barcelona captain Carles Puyol admitted his team must be wary of what he described as "very dangerous" opponents. "They are top of the table for a reason; they've won almost all of their games this season and we know they can hurt us if we allow them to," the defender explained. "The most important thing for us is that we keep possession and play as we know how to. I think it will be an evenly balanced game."
The Azulgrana recorded two triumphs over Madrid last term, the latter a
6-2 win at the Santiago Bernabéu, yet while he does not envisage a repeat of that result this time around, Puyol maintained that spirits are just as high among his team-mates as they were last season. "Our midweek [UEFA Champions League] win against Internazionale Milano was very important," the 31-year-old said. "Prior to that game we were in a position where we could have been knocked out of the tournament; we were right on the edge but the victory gave us a lot of confidence."
The Spanish international defender has faced many top players during the 20 appearances he has made against Madrid over the last ten years but this time around he feels it would be wrong to single out a specific opponent for special attention. "We mustn't only pay attention to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, for example; we need to keep an eye on all of the other players too," Puyol said. "They are a defensively strong team and can also cause a lot of damage further upfield as they have a lot of quality in attack."
Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, meanwhile, spoke of his desire to "put distance between ourselves and Barcelona in terms of points on the board". He added: "We know that Barça play good football but we're not going there with any kind of fear. We're first in the Liga and [after beating FC Zürich 1-0 on Wednesday] top of our UEFA Champions League group. We'll do our talking on the pitch and we won't be out there waiting to see what they do. It's going to be a beautiful and emotional game."
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