FC Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman is not in the mood to bash bitter rivals Real Madrid. In fact, he is doing the opposite. Ahead of the highly anticipated El Clasico on Saturday, Koeman says that the defending La Liga champions have been enduring much more criticism than they deserve. He also said that Barcelona captain Lionel Messi will need to be in his best form if they want to win.

"We need the best Messi [to win], but we need the best Barcelona," Koeman said, making it clear that everyone in the Barca camp needs to step up. They need to come to Madrid with all guns blazing if they want to stand a chance. "We have to do things perfectly well, with our attack, passes, moves...," he added.

The Dutch coach pointed out that Real Madrid's critics should remember that Los Blancos are in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League and are favourites to advance to the semi-finals after defeating Liverpool 3-1 in the first leg. He also said that Real Madrid is still in contention for the La Liga title, so critics need to hold their judgement. "I'm not a supporter of the people who have criticised [them]. They have great players and it's a great match. Both teams know the importance of winning," said Koeman.

That said, the Barcelona manager admitted that the upcoming match holds a lot of importance for both teams. "A Clasico is a different game to the others. Barcelona are doing well, [we] are on a good run, we are fighting to win," Koeman said in the pre-match press conference.

"The team that wins [the Clasico] will have an important morale boost to build on," he added. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona are fighting to catch Atletico Madrid, who are currently on top of the La Liga table. Barca is only one point behind, while Real Madrid is a further two points adrift. Whoever wins El Clasico will have a big advantage when it comes to challenging Atletico for the title.

Koeman also looked back at his team's loss in the first Clasico this La Liga season. It may be remembered that Barcelona was beaten 1-3 at the Camp Nou.

"The VAR with that penalty had an influence on the result, but it's not true that we were bad at that time and now we are much better," said Koeman.

It's a very different situation this time around with Real Madrid missing the services of captain Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. However, their victory against Liverpool in mid-week showed that the remaining players are more than capable of getting the job done.

Surprisingly, Koeman took Real Madrid's side after Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp criticised their use of the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. "He's trying to discredit a big club like Madrid, who have chosen this time without fans to do some work on their stadium. They are used to playing on this pitch, the opponents have to play there and it's not an important issue for me," said Koeman.

Ronald Koeman
Ronald Koeman returned to the club he helped win the European Cup in 1992 AFP / Josep LAGO