SPORTING - BARCELONA | ABELARDO

"Messi and co. shouldn't expect us to roll out the red carpet"

Sporting boss Abelardo Fernández has said that he will make changes to his team for the visit of Barça. "They're the best in the world."

Sporting Gijón manager Abelardo Fernández said ahead of side’s meeting with Barcelona on Wenesday night that the visitors should not expect a red carpet to be rolled out. However, Abelardo noted that as far as his side are concerned the away match against Betis at the weekend carries more importance in the fight to remain in Primera. Sporting are currently in 16th place in the table, two points clear of Las Palmas in 18th.

Playing a game like this is a sign that we are in Primera División,” Abelardo said in his pre-match press conference. “I’m going to give you guys a headline: the team of kids are playing the best team in the world.” Sporting have the youngest squad in Primera, including on-loan Barcelona midfielder Alen Halilovic, who is clear to play against his parent club on Thursday.

Abelardo described the match as “special,” not only because of Barça’s prestige but also his long friendship with Luis Enrique, who started his career at El Molinón and played alongside the Sporting manager for the Rojiblancos, Barcelona and the Spain national team.

We are friends but during the match Luis will be looking out for the interests of Barcelona and I’ll be doing the same for Sporting,” he said. “When we were young we never thought that we would end up playing for Real Madrid, for Barcelona, or for Spain.”

Of the match, Abelardo noted that Enrique’s Barcelona are “at the same level of the best Barcelona sides in history,” but said that his side would not be rolling over for the league leaders. “We’re not thinking about being thrashed, but about playing as well as we can. They will have most of the ball and that means that we will have to run ourselves into the ground. We’ll try to make life difficult for them but it’s hard to hurt them, not just for Sporting but for any team in the world.”

Abelardo also said that he had no designs on Enrique’s job somewhere down the line: “My biggest challenge this season is not beating Barcelona but keeping Sporting up.”