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Messi primed for record-setting Clasico appearance

The Barcelona captain is set to become the club’s all-time leading appearance maker in meetings with Real Madrid.

Image: OSCAR DEL POZO

LIONEL MESSI WILL will make more history on Sunday when taking in a 43rd Clasico outing for Barcelona against Real Madrid, with Quique Setien hoping that there will be many more to come.

As a one-club man, the mercurial Argentine forward has faced arch-rivals on a regular basis down the years.

He has often been a thorn in Madrid’s side, with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner boasting hat-tricks and stunning solo efforts aplenty in meetings with the Blancos.

Messi is now about to become Barca’s all-time leading appearance maker in games which matter most to the Catalan giants – as he edges one clear of former team-mate Xavi – with his current coach hoping to find more inspiration from a reliable source at Santiago Bernabeu, the stadium which will host Sunday’s highly anticipated meeting of the two Spanish giants.

“We would love to see him play another 43 more,” Setien told reporters.

“It says a lot. I don’t know the statistics in terms of efficiency but he is very important for us. Hopefully, he will take advantage of a great game and can help us to win.”

A positive result in the Spanish capital would keep Barca at the top of the Liga table, with Setien fully aware of the pressure he is working under in what will be his first Clasico as a coach.

He added: “It could be an important day. A victory would give us an advantage but that would not be enough. The reality is that I don’t trust the dynamics. In these matches, the past is forgotten. The present is a premium.

“The points or the situation in the table are not forgotten, because it is a Clasico and the two try to win beyond the situation of each one. But it will be a disputed match settled by small margins. We will see who does it better.

“All the matches are different. For Madrid, this match is surely vital, surely more important than for us in terms of the situation and the time that may remain [in the season].

real-madrid-v-manchester-city-uefa-champions-league-round-of-16-first-leg-santiago-bernabeu Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid have been struggling for form. Source: Nick Potts

“For Madrid, it is a key and decisive match. I don’t know if it’s decisive but, very important. I don’t trust anything. It will be competitive, there will be phases [of the match] that we will master and others that we will not.

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“Madrid at home and on any pitch are always dangerous. These feelings are forgotten when the match begins. You don’t think about the consequences but about playing and doing your best.

“Everything is in the hands of the players, of their ability to carry out the plan. That added tension that comes from the situation does not influence so much.”

Setien took in a scouting mission on Wednesday when attending Madrid’s 2-1 Champions League defeat to Manchester City, with that trip to the Bernabeu presenting him with a chance to speak with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola.

“I wasn’t there to see Pep, I was there to see the game,” he said when asked if he had sought any advice from a man well versed in the demands of Clasico encounters.

“We talked about a little of everything. What City did in the Bernabeu can help us to an extent.”

Barca will have Jordi Alba back at their disposal on Sunday, while Gerard Pique has “practically overcome” the injury issues which have been troubling him of late.

Setien said of the World Cup-winning centre-half: “He has recovered well, he will not have any problems.”

Meanwhile, Real boss Zinedine Zidane will leave any decision on his future as manager in the hands of others, with the Frenchman reluctant to speculate on whether he needs the Liga title in order to keep his job.

The Blancos could clamber back to the Liga summit on Sunday, but come into the game on the back of an untimely wobble over recent weeks, dropping domestic points against Celta Vigo and Levante while also crashing out of the Copa del Rey before the 2-1 defeat to City in the Champions League. 

Quizzed on whether he needs silverware in order to remain in his post for 2020-21, Zidane told reporters: “Well, that’s someone else’s decision. I know what I need to do…but you can only have one title winner.

“You [the press] have a job to do and I have mine to do. We’ve had some bad results, but I have the strength to go on and the players to do so.

“It’s delicate,” Zidane added of Madrid’s current position.

“It’s true we’ve not had great results but this happens. We know we can change this. We’re good enough and, with the fans behind us from the start.”

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