By Tim Stannard
1) Luis Enrique plays it cool ahead of Clasico
The day that Luis Enrique and Zinedine Zidane say they will cherish but be lying through their you-know-where’s, is upon us.
Actually, that particular part of the body played an important part of Real Madrid’s pre-match discourse, but more on that in a second. The Clasico is just one day away and the real business began when the coaches of both teams were shoved before the media on Friday morning and tried their very best to say something that would not turn into a front-page banner headline on Saturday’s papers. Neither succeeded.
Luis Enrique trod a path between dog poops of Clasico controversy but had a generally confident air ahead of the game. “Playing at home, I don’t care if the gap (to Madrid) is 100 points, 25 or one. It’s a great game and we need to spread joy to both ourselves and our fans.” The other message from the normally downbeat Don of football is not to get too overexcited about the occasion. “It's not my first El Clásico, I have had them as a player and a coach. Controlling your emotions is basic,” noted the Barca boss.
2) Iniesta and Alba return to boost Barca
The best news possible for a Barcelona side whose midfield has been flakier than a hermit’s scalp is that Andres Iniesta is back in business and has a possibility of starting Saturday’s Camp Nou clash. “As well as being our captain, he is one of the references of our team,” purred Enrique, “but we will have to see if he can make the starting line-up.” Jordi Alba has also been passed fit, meaning that Barcelona have close to a full-strength team.
The social media addict, Gerard Pique, also had his say in a Facebook live session on Thursday evening and admitted that winning a Champions League title was the defender’s best football moment, rather than lifting the World Cup in 2010. “My best moment as a footballer was in 2009 when we won the Champions League in Rome. It was against my old team, Manchester United and it was special because it was my first with FC Barcelona.
3) Zidane hopes for ‘looser’ approach to Clasico clash
Over in the Real Madrid camp and Coach Zizou was in chirpy mood, as much as that is possible for the taciturn Frenchman. Indeed, there was something almost resembling a joke with Zidane admitting that his team were heading to the Camp Nou feeling considerably more comfortable than last year when Madrid eventually came away with a 2-1 win. “I’m going to use a bad word here, so I’m sorry, but we went there with a tight-ass, but we have to feel the same way in our heads on Saturday.”
4) Zizou reaches coaching elite in FIFA short-list
Friday was generally a good one for Coach Zizou after the French boss was stuck onto the shortlist for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach Award. The Real Madrid manager, who won the 2016 Champions League, is on the list along with Leicester City manager, Claudio Ranieri and Portugal boss, Fernando Santos. However, Zizou was in ‘we’re not worthy mode’ when asked about the honor. “There are a lot of managers who should be there ahead of me.”
Plug time! – Tune into the XTRA at 7PM ET / 4PM PT for the latest news from the Catalan capital. That’s followed by the Locker Room for pre-Clasico prediction. And Game Day itself gets going at 9AM ET / 6AM PT on Saturday.
5) Rosberg’s shock F1 retirement
And here’s everything else. Napoli are taking on Inter in Serie A on beIN SPORTS at 2:45PM ET / 11:45AM PT. Sepp Blatter will learn in final football ban fate on Monday and Nico Rosberg has caught everyone by surprise to say the least by announcing his retirement from Formula One just days after winning his first ever world title. "I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right," declared Rosberg.
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