Vilanova. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.

Calm, eager and confident in his players, that's how Tito Vilanova comes into his first Liga Clásico after winning all of his Liga and Champions League games this season. “It’s not easy to do this, it’s the fifth time in the history of the Club that the team has won its opening six Liga games. It’s possibly our best moment since we started, but perhaps we’ll have better moments this season,” said the manager.

With the eight-point advantage over Real Madrid, the manager is aware that his team has “a great opportunity.” At the same time, however, he said that “if we were told at the beginning of the Liga that we’d have a two-point advantage and we’d go up to a five-point advantage, we’d all sign on the dotted line.”

“The only thing in play is a football match”

On the symbolic and political overtones that can sometimes be associated with a Barça-Madrid, Vilanova was clear: “We’re only playing a football match, nothing else, we’re going to have a 5-point or an 11-point lead. If politics are discussed, it’ll be done somewhere else. This is sport.” He added: “In the Camp Nou, there are always Catalan flags and we’ve had a lot of mosaics. When we go to other stadiums there are other types of flags, and nothing happens.”

Piqué doubful

The manager did not confirm if Gerard Piqué will be available for the match on Sunday. “He completed a training session after days of inactivity. We’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow, how he’s recovered.” According to the manager, “it all depends on his foot, nothing else. His desire to play is not in doubt, he’s dedicated as much time as possible and more to his recovery. He’s done everything to be fit.”

Vilanova went on to say that his line-up against Madrid is contingent on how his players perform in tomorrow’s training session. On Alex Song, a possible replacement for Piqué, he said: “He’s used to playing in the pivot role and at times he played as a center defender, he’s had to play [in that position] sooner than we had hoped. The injuries to our center defenders has forced him to take a crash course and play in this role sooner than we planned.”

A recognisable Barça

In any case, whoever gets the nod, Vilanova is clear on how his team will play: “We have tried to play football in a very deliberate way these past five seasons. At the same time we’re seeing that our opponents are closing themselves off at the back, they don’t play toe to toe with us and that forces us to be nuanced and look for variables.” When asked identify his team’s best performance this season, the manager said the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid. “For me, it’s the best game we’ve played by far. If there are things we can apply from that game to tomorrow’s, we will,” he said.

No surprises; long season ahead

On Real Madrid, the Blaugrana manager said: “The more games you play, the more you know. We know what they’ll do, how they’ll approach the match and they know what we’re going to do. I don’t think there will be any surprises at this point.” He added: “They have a fantastic team that cost a lot more millions than Barça’s and it’s possible that they’ll win.” With that said, Vilanova noted that in a Clásico “there is no such thing as a favourite” and, no matter what happens, “there is still a lot of Liga yet to be played.”