New Real Madrid manager Juande Ramos faces a real baptism of fire in his first league match in charge, with the struggling double champions traveling to Barcelona’s Camp Nou tonight. If Barcelona win the league leaders will extend their advantage over Real to 12 points heading into the Christmas break and surely all but end Real’s hopes of a third successive league crown.
Ramos, who started with a 3-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg in Tuesday’s Champions League match, has a chance to endear himself to the Real supporters by dragging their stumbling side back into the title race. Former coach Bernd Schuster caused a stir after last weekend’s 4-3 defeat by Sevilla by saying Real couldn’t win at Camp Nou and it proved the final straw as the club ended his 18-month reign and quickly installed Ramos as his successor on an initial six-month deal.
“Barcelona are playing really well, but Madrid is playing well enough not to give up on the thought of winning at any ground in the world,” Ramos said. “This is the dream of every coach, I hope I don’t disappoint anybody.”
Ramos had a torrid time at Tottenham Hotspur, but his back-to-back UEFA Cup victories with Sevilla in 2006 and last year have not been forgotten in Spain.
It means both Real and Barca have changed coaches since the last El Clasico at the beginning of May, with Ramos and Pep Guardiola set to experience the match for the first time, although the latter witnessed several as a player.
Barcelona may be top of the table, six points clear of Villarreal, but they have failed to beat Real in their last four meetings and are haunted by the memories of the last clash when they had to do a guard of honor at the Santiago Bernabeu to salute Real as champions and then crashed to a 4-1 loss.
“We want to beat Real Madrid and are always motivated to do it. We don’t need to remember the guard of honor,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi said. “Two years ago, Real were in a similar situation to now and ended up winning the title, so we are focused.”
It is a complete u-turn from last season when Real had a four-point lead at the top and opened up a seven-point cushion with a 1-0 victory at Camp Nou and Barcelona forward Thierry Henry wants revenge.
“I will be going out there to win,” Henry said. “I don’t care if Madrid are in crisis, if they have been losing or if they have a lot of injured players. In last season’s game we had our own problems, but nobody cried for Barca and now we are not going to cry for Madrid.”
Real are ravaged by injuries, with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mahamadou Diarra out for the season, and both Dutch winger Arjen Robben and Brazilian left back Marcelo missing through suspension.
Real have lost three out of their last four league matches, but Raul said the champions still had the firepower to hurt Barca.
“If there is one team that can hurt Barcelona on their own ground it is Real Madrid,” Raul said.
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