Ramos refutes favourites tag

Confidence is soaring in the Madrid camp having last week ended a
near three-year trophy drought by beating Barca to win the Copa del
Rey, and then at the weekend they showed their formidable strength
in depth when a supposed second-string side thumped third-placed
Valencia 6-3 at the Mestalla – becoming the first away side ever to
score six times at Valencia in the league. Only two of Madrid’s
starting line-up from the cup final began that match, and with an
almost full squad available for Wednesday’s match – Ricardo
Carvalho is suspended and Sami Khedira injured – Jose Mourinho has
an embarrassment of riches at his disposal as he looks to move a
step closer to becoming the first coach to conquer Europe with
three different clubs. It is a different story for Barca boss Pep
Guardiola, who has something of defensive crisis with left-backs
Eric Abidal, Maxwell and Adriano all definitely missing, while
Carles Puyol and Gabriel Milito are both battling to recover from
injuries, although they have both been included in a 20-man squad.
With their injury problems and Madrid’s good form in mind,
Guardiola suggested at the weekend that Mourinho’s men were
favourites ahead of Wednesday’s game at the Bernabeu, but Ramos has
played down that tag. “We don’t regard ourselves as favourites
because I don’t think it serves for anything. If anything has led
to success it’s been simplicity, humility and hard work. And those
are the values we must uphold,” he said on his club’s website.
“Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have great players and nobody can
predict what will happen. We all know the responsibility we have
and what it takes to defend these colours and we know we have to
give it everything.” Guardiola also made sweeping changes for his
side’s league clash with Osasuna on Saturday, and although the
Catalan giants were nowhere near as impressive as Madrid were
against Valencia, their 2-0 home win over Osasuna moved them a step
closer to the Primera Division title, boasting an eight-point lead
over Madrid with only five games remaining. Further good news for
Barca came with David Villa ending his 11-game goalless streak for
the club with the opener in that match, while substitute Lionel
Messi wrapped up the win late on with his 50th competitive club
goal of an incredible season – a new record for Spanish football.
Barca, who are also without striker Bojan Krkic through injury, may
not be at full strength heading into the third of four ‘Clasicos’
with Madrid in the space of 18 days, but midfielder Andres Iniesta
is still in optimistic mood. “We would all have settled for being
where we are in the league, being in the Champions League semi
finals and playing the Copa del Rey final,” said Iniesta, who is
available for Barca having escaped an extra one-game ban by UEFA
after being cleared of allegedly getting deliberately booked in the
quarter-final first leg against Shakhtar Donetsk. “We have to go
out with what we’ve got. We have to find strength where there is
none. The players are fine, and we are focused on what we have
ahead of us. And what we have ahead of us is something very nice
indeed to focus on.” The Spain international, whose last-minute
goal earned Barca a semi-final win against Chelsea two years ago
before the Catalan club went on to beat Manchester United in the
final, added on his club’s website: “It will be tough and
difficult, but we have a positive attitude and are very excited to
know that we are very close to being in another final. “It would be
a dream to play at Wembley. I don’t mind if I don’t score, or even
play, as long as we are in that final.” Madrid, looking for a
record 10th European cup crown after progressing past the last 16
for the first time in seven years, have beaten Barca twice before
in the semi-finals of this competition, and on both occasions – in
1960 and 2002 – went on to lift the trophy. However, Barca have had
the better of the recent meetings between the two Spanish
superpowers, at least up until last week. They had won five
successive ‘Clasicos’ – one short of equalling the record of
consecutive wins – before being held 1-1 by 10-man Madrid in the
league 10 days ago and then losing 1-0 after extra-time in the cup
final.