With Tito Vilanova still recovering, Jordi Roura is set to manage his first Clasico for Barcelona. At the press conference, he turned down suggestions that Madrid would be vulnerable without Iker Casillas, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Sergio Ramos, Angel Di Maria and possibly Marcelo.
"I expect a Madrid that is intense, complicated, and as always, very competitive," Roura said. The Barca manager insisted that the replacements Madrid has in store, which is likely to include the likes of Raphael Varane and Jose Callejon, are "of the highest level."
"With or without those missing players, they are a heck of a team," Roura insisted. "Madrid with those absences could be even more dangerous still."
Roura said their preparations for the match did not vary. "We will try to be the team we always have been," Roura said. Expect short passing and high pressing - the Barca of Pep Guardiola and Vilanova. He said the staff is "convinced" that Madrid will not vary their defensive system.
Is there a surprise, tactics-wise, in the cards? Even Madrid's starting lineup is hard to predict: no one knows if Antonio Adan or new boy Diego Lopez will be the goalkeeper, if Marcelo will be fit, if Raul Albiol or Ricardo Carvalho will start at centerback, or if Luka Modric or Kaka will feature.
Will this much mystery surrounding Madrid, and so much familiarity at Barcelona, work in favor of the home team at the Santiago Bernabeu? Roura seems to think it could be the case.
With Vilanova out, this is Roura's first Clasico as acting head coach. The much more experienced Jose Mourinho could have the edge in the battle of the sidelines. However, Vilanova is in constant communication with the team and helps make tactical decisions, despite his illness, so this effect is lessened.
Just as managers will try to instill self-belief in plucky underdogs that are not favored for their next match, coaches are keen to play down expectations to prevent overconfidence when a team is riding high. Roura's pessimism is logical in that context.
At the same time, there is truth to his words. Real Madrid at home is one of the world's most difficult fixtures, even with some players missing. Roura tried to remind people that in the last Clasico, Barca still played well despite missing key players. There is no reason Madrid would not have a similar reaction.