Madrid and Barcelona to arrive together for clásico

Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane gives instructions to his team players during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain, Sunday, December 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
Barcelona's head coach Ernesto Valverde, right, stands on the touchline during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Sociedad and Barcelona, at Anoeta stadium, in San Sebastian, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

MADRID — Barcelona and Real Madrid will arrive together for the first clásico of the season amid security concerns in the Catalan capital.

Spanish authorities have asked the teams to make their bus trips to the Camp Nou at the same time on Wednesday because thousands of Catalan separatists plan a protest near the stadium.

The teams will also stay at the same hotel very close to the Camp Nou.

More than 25,000 separatists are expected to protest around the stadium, and they could possibly carry out actions inside the venue as well, where nearly 100,000 fans are expected for one of the most watched matches of the season.

“It will be different than usual, but they told us to leave the hotel together and that's what we will do,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Tuesday. “The important thing is that we play the game."

Police have prepared a 3,000-strong special detail involving police and private security staff to try to ensure the team buses arrive on time and nothing interrupts the match.

The game was postponed from its original date on Oct. 26 because of fears that separatists, then in the midst of a week of violent protests, would disrupt the game.

“We have to focus our energies on the things that will happen on the field,” Zidane said. “Everything else — what happens outside — we could be here talking about that for an entire week. We will focus on the field. We will be playing a soccer match.”

Barcelona and Real Madrid are tied at the top of the league standings, with the Catalan club ahead on goal difference.

“We have been playing well recently, we have been achieving good results," Zidane said. “We arrive for the match feeling good."

Madrid is on an unbeaten streak of 11 matches in all competitions, with eight wins and three draws. It hasn't beaten Barcelona in six straight clásicos, since the 2017 Spanish Super Cup. In the league, Madrid's last win over Barcelona was in April 2016, at Camp Nou.

Barcelona is unbeaten in nine consecutive games in all competitions.

Coach Ernesto Valverde said he was confident the match would be played without any issues. He said his team also was concerned with only what was going to happen on the field.

“We are aware of everything that surrounds the game,” he said. “We know people are talking about that, but what really worries us is what will happen on the field. We can't do much else about the other things. We are not thinking about anything other than the 90 minutes of this match.”

He said the off-field issues haven't created extra challenges in their preparation.

“These matches are always difficult,” Valverde said. “This one maybe is special because we are tied in the standings, not because of anything else."

He admitted his team has a “small advantage” by having an extra rest day than Madrid, which played on Sunday night at Valencia. Barcelona's game at Real Sociedad was on Saturday afternoon. Both matches ended in draws.

If the game was played in October as originally scheduled, it would have been Madrid with an extra rest day.

“In these matches, the teams are always well-prepared and the motivation is what counts the most,” Valverde said.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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