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A round-up of all the day's news on the eve of the first League Clasico of the season. Gerard Pique is rated "50-50" for tomorrow's match by Xavi, who also talked to Grant Wahl about management in one of five in-depth articles from SI.com.
The Catalan midfielder noted: "regardless of the difference in points between us right now, anything could happen in the game - it’s Madrid and don’t forget that we were favourites last year too. We won’t change though- our philosophy is untouchable – we go out to attack and enjoy ourselves". As to Madrid, even Xavi admitted that their game plan was not so clear, but warned: "they will be a powerful Madrid, like always – strong up front and with a very direct game".
After enjoying a day off, FC Barcelona’s first team returned to work this Friday morning. All 19 first team players, with the exceptions of Abidal, Cuenca, Muniesa, Piqué, Thiago and Puyol, joined Tito Vilanova for this morning’s training session. Gerard Piqué worked out apart from the group in the gym. It’s worth noting that Vilanova has, as of today, three confirmed absences on defence ahead of the match against Real Madrid: Abidal, Muniesa and Puyol.
It's usually fascinating when parallel sports cultures collide, so when I sat down with several FC Barcelona stars I asked them a question: What's the best way to explain the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry to someone in the U.S. who isn't intimately familiar with it?
"Just like any kid in Catalonia, I wanted to be a Barça football player," he said. "They had tryouts every Saturday. I came to try out, but I wasn't good enough to play for Barça. The second option was to play for a small Barcelona amateur fan club. There are two types of fan clubs, the social clubs and the clubs that also play soccer and have formative youth teams. So I landed in one of those from the time I was 6 until I was 18. Meanwhile, my dad was general manager of the club, and I got to be a ballboy. As a small boy, you lived that passion up close."
"Yes," he says when I ask him about becoming a coach. "Cruyff told me: 'Once you're done as a player, you want to remain close to the field, and the closest is being a coach.' Of course, I thought, he's right, but right now I'm just focused on playing, and later we'll see. I would like to work for Barça. That's my dream. I've been passionate about Barça since I was a kid."
On this Sunday’s clash with Real Madrid, a game he’ll will watch at the Camp Nou, Rivaldo said that Barça are favoured to win the three points: "It’s a difficult match. Complicated. You never know what’s going to happen because Madrid have a great side and they’ve won at the Camp Nou. But playing at home, I think Barça can win."
In the end, I decided to go with a 3-4-3, the better to maximize Barça's wealth of attackers, and when in doubt I opted for players who had multiple great seasons in a Barcelona shirt (which made it easier to drop Maradona and Ronaldo, to name two). Wahl's team: Zubizarreta; Dani Alves, Koeman, Puyol; Guardiola, Xavi, Iniesta, Cruyff; Kubala, Messi, Ronaldinho
Guillermo Amor is the sporting director at La Masia, FC Barcelona's remarkable youth academy, which has provided so many top-level players for Barça's senior team that at times all 11 starters have been homegrown. A former midfielder for Barça and Spain and himself a product of La Masia, Amor, 44, took over the job two years ago after Sandro Rosell won the club's presidency. Amor knows as well as anyone what fires La Masia's success.
The people who organized a massive pro-independence demonstration on Sept. 11 have asked Barcelona fans to wave pro independence flags at Sunday's game against Madrid -- They'll also be holding up a giant mosaic of Catalonia's red-and-yellow-striped flag. Fans are being encouraged to chant pro-independence slogans at the 14th and 17th minutes. They shouldn't be hard to persuade. "Barca" has been a symbol of Catalan nationalism ever since the Franco years. It doesn't seem to matter at all that so many of the players aren't even from Spain.
"It's obvious that Catalan people want independence. You just have to see how many people went out on the streets," he told Goal.com in an exclusive interview. "It was a message to the politicians and they should act as soon as possible, considering dependency on the Spanish government is impoverishing Catalunya in both social and economic terms. Independence is our right, and it shouldn't need to be asked for - it should be directly done the democratic way".
Sevilla slumped to their second successive 2-0 defeat on Friday away to newly-promoted Celta Vigo. They conceded a penalty when a freekick hit Hedwiges Maduro on the arm in the wall after an hour, and local favourite Iago Aspas netted from the spot. As the visitors pushed up in search of an equaliser Enrique De Lucas glanced home a header in the 85th minute to secure Celta's third victory on their return to the top-flight.
Athletic Bilbao will be looking to put their troubled start to the season behind them against fellow strugglers Osasuna at San Mames on Sunday. Bilbao, last season's Europa League runners-up, have managed just one La Liga win out of six, and after slumping 2-0 at Real Sociedad are languishing in 18th place.
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