Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane expects Barcelona to be just as competitive under new boss Quique Setien – and accepts working in the spotlight is all part of the job.
Despite Barcelona being top of LaLiga, the Catalan club announced on Monday evening that Ernesto Valverde had been sacked and replaced by Setien.
Former Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol boss Valverde had guided Barca to LaLiga titles in each of his two full seasons at the helm, and also delivered both the Spanish Super Cup and Copa del Rey.
Los Blancos will return to domestic action after winning the Spanish Super Cup final with a 4-1 penalty shootout victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia.
Zidane’s side are behind Barca only on goal difference as they prepare for Saturday’s visit of Sevilla.
The Frenchman did not want to be drawn on the background of Valverde’s departure – but understands all too well the pressures which a manager of a leading club has to contend with.
“I’m not going to get into whether or not I understand it. I’m sorry for him. He’s a coach who has shown how good he is, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Zidane said.
“As coaches at clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, we know where we are at and that isn’t going to change.
“If I lose a couple of games I’m going to get criticised, as I did a month-a-half ago. You can only try to give 100 per cent.”
Zidane feels Barca will continue to provide a strong challenge with 61-year-old former Real Betis boss Setien at the helm.
“I expect a competitive Barcelona team under him,” Zidane said at a press conference, reported by Spanish media outlet AS. “They will do their job and we will do ours.”
Real are on an unbeaten run of 16 matches in all competitions, having lost just once in LaLiga so far this season.
Zidane has called for continued focus after their successful Saudi Arabia trip.
“We are not going to change our mentality because we won the Spanish Super Cup. We are training and working well because the season is very long,” the Real Madrid boss said.
“We want to continue demonstrating what we are doing on the pitch against a Sevilla team who will make it difficult.”
Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema all missed the Super Cup final, while defender Sergio Ramos will be monitored due to an ankle problem.
Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui returns to his former club, having replaced Zidane during June 2018 only to be replaced by Santiago Solari just four months later.
Lopetegui, though, maintains focus should be on the pitch.
“It may be customary for them to remember a coach or a player on their return, but nothing further,” he said, quoted on the Sevilla website.
“The spotlight will be on the game and on how the players are shown on the pitch.”
Forward Youssef En-Nesyri could feature after his 20million euro (£17.1m) move from Leganes.
Lopetegui added: “We are excited and ambitious to play a good game and go for the three points.”