Mourinho leaves Guardiola in limelight ahead of `Clasico`

Updated: Dec 10, 2011, 08:52 AM IST

Madrid: Jose Mourinho declined to speak to the media and left Pep Guardiola to be the protagonist on Friday, in a low-key build up to Barcelona`s trip to play La Liga leaders Real Madrid.

The first `Clasico` of the league season on Saturday has champions Barca in the unfamiliar position of trying to play catch-up with their arch-rivals, as they lie three points adrift in second place having played a game more.

Earlier in the day, Mourinho sent out his assistant Aitor Karanka to face reporters, an increasingly common habit before big games, as both clubs played cat-and-mouse over possible starting elevens at the Bernabeu.

"I prefer it this way," Guardiola said when asked about Mourinho`s no-show in Madrid and the lack of a heated atmosphere before the game.

The Portuguese has had a strained relationship with local journalists and has hit the headlines before and after recent `Clasicos` for his outspoken attacks on Barca, referees and the footballing authorities.

"It isn`t us who are the centre of attention it is the players and what they do on the pitch which is the most important thing," Guardiola added.

"The team that is behind in the standings always needs a win more, and tomorrow we clearly have a lot to play for. It won`t be definitive...but it is very important."

Guardiola has an impressive record against Real of seven wins from 11 meetings, including three wins, three draws and one defeat since Mourinho took the helm a year and a half ago.

Their Spanish Super Cup showdown in August`s pre-season curtain-raiser saw the sides more evenly-matched than ever, Barca edging a 5-4 aggregate win.


"Real Madrid are a better team than they were last year, they are getting better with time," the former Barca and Spain midfielder said," Guardiola said.

"There will be tension, my palms will be a little sweatier than they are at the moment, but if they weren`t it would be a sign that this was all over. This is what motivates us."

Both Barca and Real kept their cards close to their chests, naming 23-man squads.

Barca were missing the injured Ibrahim Afellay and included three youth team players, while Real called up their entire squad bar injured Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho.

Karanka had earlier been on the defensive when he appeared instead of Mourinho at their training ground just outside the Spanish capital.

"I`ve made more than 30 of these appearances and have already answered this question many times before," he replied when asked why he was standing in for his boss.

"It isn`t just another game, it is different. If we finish nine points ahead of Barca tomorrow, all the better, but if we don` won`t change our way of working."

Karanka said Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria would be starting on the flanks with either Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain up front in a 4-3-3 formation, but declined to specify whether the midfield would include another creative player or a more combative combination.

Bureau Report