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Ancelotti: "You can never rule Barcelona out, they will fight to the end"

Carlo Ancelotti looked ahead to Sunday's Clásico against Barcelona - the first to be played at the Bernabéu since the Coronavirus pandemic two years ago.

Ancelotti: "You can never rule Barcelona out, they will fight to the end"

Carlo Ancelotti attended the media to looked ahead to Sunday's Clásico against Barcelona. It will be the first time that the Bernabéu has staged a meeting with the eternal rivals since 1 March 2020. On that occasion, Madrid ran out 2-0 winners but just a fortnight later, the country was plunged into lockdown as a consquence of the Coronavirus pandemic. This time, Madrid go into the game top of the table and 15 points ahead of Xavi's Barça, who have a game in hand. Top scorer Karim Benzema will miss the match after picking up a calf muscle injury.

Ancelotti's pre-Clásico press conference

The fans are happy and the team is calm out on the pitch. Is that the secret formula?

If the happiness is on the final whistle then yes. Keeping calm is key, that's for sure. A Clásico demands a lot, it's a special game which will demand the very best from us. We are going into it felling confident.

Benzema ruled out

Karim and Mendy are unable to play and neither will they be joining up with the France squad. They'll stay here in Madrid.

Would Benzema have played had this been a final?

We don't risk players, we never have. It wasn't a risk to play him in Paris as he was fit to play. But he isn't fit to play tomorrow, because he hasn't trained with the group. He still has a few twinges.

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You said before the PSG game that the team would play "the kind of game the fans want to see". What kind of game will Real Madrid play tomorrow against Barça?

The same - or even better. It will be a game with many facets - attacking football, defending as a team... We will be playing against a very strong side which means we will need to put in a complete performance. We will need to press well, switch from defence to attack well, do a lot of things... We'll be making a mistake if we think that we can win just by doing one of those things.

If Barcelona don;t win, they will be effectively out of the title race for LaLiga?

If we win, will will have three more points; if we draw, one; and if we lose, none. I wouldn't ever rule out Barcelona, whatever happens. Because they will fight right up until the last game.

Who will come in for Benzema?

I've decided who will play. But I'm not going to tell you.

What do you think of Xavi as a coach and how do you think he will be approaching this game?

Barcelona's identity hasn't changed. They are a team with a very clear, defined style and Xavi exemplifies it perfectly. Barcelona have improved a lot, they are in a good dynamic. My opinion is that they are doing very well.

Why isn't Gareth Bale playing at the Bernabéu? Is he an option tomorrow?

He's one option, along with Mariano, Jovic, Asensio, Isco... We have a lot of options, but I have selected the players who I think are best for this game.

Can Madrid win El Clásico without Benzema?

I think so. Karim is  very important part of the team, because he finishes off the job, but without him we have to continue doing that work and find other solutions.

Are Benzema's injuries a cause for concern? Will there be signings this summer?

I'm not worried about it. He's 34 and these things can happen, but he has alsways bounced back to make the difference. What he's had have been minor pains. He'll recover over the next couple of weeks and will be back being important again in the final stages of the campaign.

What style of play should Madrid have in these games?

One which fits in with the players' characteristics. That's what every team should think about. If you have players who are good at keeping possession, then that is what you should exploit; if you have defenders who are very good with the ball at their feet, you should use them to conduct the ball out from the back; but if you can't do that, playing a long-ball style might be an option for example. I don't rule anything out. With my experience, I have always tried to put out a team in which the players feel comfortable, I never force them to play in a way in which they feel uncomfortable. For me, football is not just one style, you need to play in various different ways. And this squad has so much quality that they can do that.

What is your relationship with the players like?

I'm still in the honeymoon period. I'm happy, satisfied; I feel respected by all of them. It inevitable though that the players who don't play as much suffer more, but my job is to take decisions which naturally affect the players. All of my players are very professional.

The team's capitans... Nacho, for instance

He's a player who has a very balanced character. He knows exactly what his role is within the squad. It doesn't affect him if he plays or not, he remains level-headed, and that allows him to have a very high level of professionalism regardless of how much playing time he gets - or even if he plays at centre-back or full-back.

Are you happy with Hazard and Bale?

Yes. Obviously, players of their level want more involvement. If they haven't had that, it's because I have chosen other players based on professional criteria. But they have never missed a training session, never.

Two since since the last Clásico at the Bernabéu...

The last one was unforgettable. What happened back then remains in all of our hearts. We and our fans want to repeat it. And we can.