Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (file pic).
absent friends

'Pigs were flying in El Clasico before Messi and Ronaldo'

Both Messi and Ronaldo will not be on the field but the Barca boss thinks Sunday’s Clasico will be memorable

BARCELONA HEAD COACH Ernesto Valverde believes El Clasico will lack none of its famous intensity in the absence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid visit Camp Nou on Sunday for a first showdown with their bitter rivals since Ronaldo departed to Juventus in July.

A broken arm has put fellow five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi on the sidelines, meaning the fixture will take place without either star forward for the first time since December 2007.

But Valverde, who represented Barcelona as a player between 1988 and 1990, pointed to the long history of simmering bad blood between the sides — recalling the infamous incident in 2002 when ex-Barca favourite Luis Figo had a pig’s head thrown at him on a return to Camp Nou in Madrid colours.

“No, because El Clasico existed long before those two,” Valverde said at his pre-match news conference when asked whether it would be a lesser fixture without the two leading men.

There were great players before, tension before – there were even pigs flying, remember?

“Cristiano hasn’t been in Madrid since the start of the season. We just lost Messi a week ago.

“We don’t think Madrid have lost this or that player, we look at Madrid now.

“[Injured right-back Dani] Carvajal is a more important absence [because] Cristiano doesn’t play for them anymore.”

Some observers might venture there is more chance of pigs flying than Julen Lopetegui seeing out his maiden season in charge of Madrid, with a defeat in El Clasico likely to seal the former Spain boss’ fate.

A 2-1 win over Viktoria Plzen in midweek ended a run of five matches without a win in all competitions for Los Blancos, who head to Catalonia seventh in La Liga and woefully short of goals.

Nevertheless, Valverde does not want Barcelona to read too much into Madrid seemingly being gripped by crisis.

We shouldn’t focus too much on that because we all know what Madrid are made of,” he said. “The more wounded they are, the more dangerous they can be.

“They’ve come to Camp Nou in difficult situations over recent seasons and they’ve always performed well.

“We don’t think too much about things happening at Madrid. We focus on them as a team and they are a team with great players.”

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