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.