Benitez promises Real Madrid on the offensive against Barcelona
MADRID - Rafa Benitez promises Real Madrid will come out attacking in the first clasico of the season against Barcelona on Saturday.
With all his top strikers available after injuries and off-the-field problems, the coach said on Friday that Madrid will not relinquish its offensive style just because it's facing Barcelona.
''The team's characteristic is to attack, to score goals, and to always be near the opponent's goal,'' Benitez said. ''And that's what we will have to do.'' He said nothing will change even if Lionel Messi returns to the Barcelona squad following a long injury layoff. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said Messi may be able to play but won't be fully fit for the match at the Santiago Bernabeu.
''It's obvious that he won't be at 100 percent physically,'' said Enrique, adding that a decision on whether the Argentine star will play likely won't be made until closer to the game. ''I will talk to him today (Friday) and I'll likely talk to him again tomorrow. It's the player who ultimately can tell you how he feels, if he's confident or not. I do know that he has been waiting for this for a long time.''
Messi tore a ligament in his left knee nearly two months ago and has missed nine matches since then. Enrique said midfielder Ivan Rakitic has recovered from a muscle injury and will be available on Saturday, although it wasn't clear if the Croat would start.
Benitez did not announce Madrid's lineup, but said Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale will be available. Bale and Benzema have been injured, and Benzema has also been dealing with a sex tape controversy that led him to being briefly detained in France two weeks ago.
Benitez also said playmaker James Rodriguez was ready to play despite coming off two full games with Colombia. It's only the second time this season that Benitez will have all of his players available for a game. He said Madrid should be considered the ''favorite'' because it's at full strength and playing at home.
Despite pledging an offensive team on Saturday, Benitez didn't say whether he planned on using Rodriguez instead of defensive midfielder Casemiro, who has been the starter recently. He emphatically dismissed rumors of a meeting organized by the players to demand a more offensive style, and defended himself by pointing to the team's numbers this season.
Real Madrid goes into the game with the Spanish league's best attack with 26 goals, one more than Barcelona. ''Barcelona (isn't) going to change their playing style and neither will we,'' Bale said. ''I'm certain you'll see an attacking game from both teams, and it makes sense that the team that scores a lot of goals will win. It will be an even contest, it's always tough against them.''
Without Messi, Barcelona's attack has still been thriving with Luis Suarez and Neymar, who have scored 20 of the team's 23 goals.
Madrid, unbeaten at home in 22 La Liga games, lost its first match of the season two weeks ago at Sevilla and arrives at the clasico three points behind Barcelona in the league standings. It can return to the top with a win on Saturday because it has a better goal difference than its rival. Another loss would certainly put Benitez under pressure.
''The team arrives with high hopes,'' Benitez said on the eve of the first clasico of his career. ''We know the importance of any match against Barcelona and of winning these points.''
Enrique made it clear that he doesn't think the 12th-round game will play a major role in determining the league's winner at the end of the season. ''It's important to win the points and to keep the rival from doing it,'' Enrique said. ''But it's not going to be decisive.''
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