Madrid (AFP) – Ronald Koeman said on Saturday it is not possible for him to be under more pressure as Barcelona prepare to face Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season.
And Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti believes the fixture has not lost its lustre, even though stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos have moved on in recent years.
Koeman appeared to be on the brink of losing his job earlier this month after Barca had won only once in six matches.
But club’s president Joan Laporta moved to end the speculation by insisting Koeman “deserved the benefit of the doubt” and would stay as coach.
“I don’t think it’s possible to be under more pressure,” said Koeman at the eve of match press conference.
“As Barcelona coach you have to take it, no problem. I know the importance of a Clasico.”
Asked if he still felt the backing of the club, Koeman said smiling: “I have to answer every game if that’s the case. I think I am the coach of Barcelona now, tomorrow let’s see. I feel supported by the club but I know everything depends on results.”
The Clasico has been the stand-out club fixture in the world over the last decade but Barca and Madrid have both been weakened by financial difficulties and key departures.
“It is still a special match,” said Ancelotti. “I’ve lived it before and even without Messi and Ronaldo, the feelings are the same, nothing changes.
“It’s not about individuals. It’s about the teams. The players come and go but there will always be Barcelona and Real Madrid.”
Barcelona sit seventh in La Liga after winning four of their opening eight games but they are only two points behind Real Madrid.
“This game won’t be decisive,” said Koeman.
“It will just show what kind of moment the two teams are in.”
After beating Valencia in La Liga and Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, a victory at Camp Nou on Sunday would round off an encouraging week for Koeman and his team.
Yet many believe Madrid are favourites, especially after they thumped Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 on Tuesday.
“We know exactly what we have, and what we have to do,” said Koeman. “I don’t have any fear.”
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has never won at Camp Nou as a manager, a drought that spans five games across tenures at AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and his first spell at Real Madrid.
“I think the time has come,” said Ancelotti.
Ancelotti also confirmed Eden Hazard is fit but unlikely to start.
“He’s okay, he trained well yesterday with the team, everything went well,” Ancelotti said. “It’s difficult to start a player that comes from injury but he could be useful and come off the bench at any time.”
Jordi Alba trained on Saturday and is ready to play, despite suffering a minor ankle problem in midweek.
Ansu Fati is expected to start for Barcelona after beginning on the bench against Dynamo, with Koeman managing the 18-year-old’s minutes after he recently recovered from a serious knee injury.
“We have to keep calm so that he can fully recover,” said Koeman.
“Ansu cannot do it on his own, he is part of the team but he is a player who can make a difference.”