In the wake of reports about a delegation of senior players calling a meeting with him to demand more attacking football, Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez is feeling the pressure ahead of Saturday’s El Clasico against Barcelona.
Benitez, who earned a reputation for playing defense-minded football in stints at Valencia, Liverpool and Napoli, came out on Friday promising he would set his team out to attack.
“The attributes of this Real Madrid team mean we have to attack regularly, threaten the opposition keeper and score goals, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Benitez told MARCA.
The former Real Madrid Castilla player also bristled at the suggestion by many in the media that Barcelona, despite being the visiting team, were favorites.
“We’re playing at home, in front of our fans, and that’s why I think we’re favorites. Obviously we’re up against a great team but we’re confident going into the game and I think we’re going to do a great job.”
There have been continual reports of internal turmoil: Rumors have it that behind the scenes Benitez has fallen out with Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo in particular is said to be unhappy in the role of central striker, where Benitez has often deployed him this season.
Although Madrid has only lost once in La Liga this term, winning games isn’t always enough in the crazy world of Real Madrid. Already there are rumors in Madrid that the club could be lining up Zinedine Zidane as a possible replacement for Benitez should he lose on Saturday.
The good news for Benitez is that the Spaniard will have his whole squad available to choose from. Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have both recovered fitness and although it’s not yet known if either will start, both are in the squad according to Benitez.
On the defensive side, Ramos will apparently feature, despite the revelation that the defender may require shoulder surgery. Real Madrid received an even greater boost with the news that goalkeeper Keylor Navas returned to full training this week.
The Costa Rican goalkeeper, who was injured on Champions League duty against Paris Saint-Germain, has been one of Madrid’s standout players this season, having made 27 saves in nine starts in the league.
Benitez is not alone in terms of heading into the Clasico under pressure: Ronaldo has also had questions asked about his somewhat erratic form this season. With eight goals in 15 matches -– five of which came in a single match –- the reigning World Player of the Year is experiencing his worst start to a season in more than five years.
With rumors about his potentially being sold refusing to die down, the Clasico could provide the Portuguese forward with the ideal platform to answer his critics, particularly those who have suggested that he may be past his peak.