Ernesto Valverde
Valverde has made an encouraging start to life at Barcelona. Getty Images

Ernesto Valverde has refused to accept that Barcelona are the favourites to win the first El Clasico of La Liga against Real Madrid on Saturday [23 December] despite the Catalans' impressive start to the campaign.

Valverde's pupils will travel to the Santiago Bernabeu at the summit of La Liga table having secured 42 points in 16 matches, 11 more than Real, who are fourth with a game in hand.

Victory for Barcelona could therefore all but kill Real's hopes of retaining their title but Valverde pointed out that Atletico Madrid are now second and only six points behind.

"We are not the favorites. The standings don't matter in these games. They're very good and we'll have to be alert and ready for anything," Valverde said before reiterating that whatever happens in El Clasico won't be decisive in the race for the title.

"We can't win the title tomorrow. Firstly we have not even win tomorrow's game. Atletico Madrid are six points behind and that could be down to three if the win and we lose. We will face the match as if it were our last.

"Both of us are under pressure because of what the match means. They go into it behind us, so it is possible [Real feel more pressure], but it is not defining."

El Clasico will give Barcelona the possibility of exacting revenge after earlier in the season Real humiliated the Catalans in the two legs of Spanish Super Cup trophy with an emphatic 5-1 victory on aggregate.

Yet, Valverde expects a very different game with Barcelona having improve vastly since then.

"We have to be very focused to avoid their pressure. In the Supercopa they hurt us with their pressure and we have to overcome it. We lost those matches in the first half. We have to control this game well and overcome the initial pressure," Valverde added.

"We have to be alert to any situation because the smallest detail in these types of games can swing it in your favour. Therefore, we must be very attentive to all aspects. We are excited about this match, we come into it at a good time and we are ready to face it."

"They are a very powerful team in their own stadium, have very quick players, and when it seems that you're playing well and dominating, they can hit you with very fast counterattacks."

Meanwhile, Valverde has decided against risking Ousmane Dembele's return with the Frenchman yet to receive medical clearance from the doctors after a hamstring tear.

Samuel Umtiti and Paco Alcacer will also miss the trip to Real due to injuries while Arda Turan, Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu have also been left out of Valverde's 18-man squad.

Rafinha and Deulofeu have both recovered from their respective injuries but the Barcelona boss believes that El Clasico will come too early for both academy stars.

This way Lionel Messi is expected to lead a starting line-up only hindered by the absence of Umtiti in the back-line.