By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - - Memories and images of Johan Cruyff will provide an emotional backdrop to Saturday's Nou Camp ‘Clasico’ against Real Madrid when Barcelona pay tribute to the man who transformed the club from also-rans into one of the game's superpowers. In their first match since their much-loved former player and coach Cruyff died from cancer last week, fans will hold up a mosaic reading ‘Gracies Johan’ (thanks Johan, in Catalan) and the home side’s players will bear the same message on their shirts.
Midfielder Andres Iniesta believes a win over Madrid is the best way to pay tribute to the Dutchman who as a player helped end a 14-year title drought in 1974 and as a coach led them to a hat-trick of domestic championships and their first European Cup success in 1992 and put in place the template for much of their subsequent success. "It would be very special to win the Clasico in tribute to Cruyff, although the best tribute is what he has given everyone, especially Barcelona fans, but the whole soccer world too,” Iniesta told a news conference. Barca sit nine points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga with eight matches left this season and 10 ahead of third-placed Real, giving them the biggest advantage over their rivals before a ‘Clasico’ for 10 years. However, Iniesta said the vast points gap between the two rivals does not affect how his side are viewing the game. "We know that these types of games are unique and it doesn’t matter what form the other team is in. We’re preparing for a massive game against a very powerful team,” he said.
Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale meanwhile issued a rallying cry for his side ahead of the game, saying Madrid could end Barcelona’s 39-game unbeaten run with a first league win at the Nou Camp since 2012 and kick-start a late title charge. “They are playing very well at the moment so we have to take the game to them, we have to attack them, we have to exploit their weaknesses," said the Welshman.
"We have a game plan and if we perform to our maximum I'm very confident we can get the win. I believe anything is possible in soccer, we knew we are 10 points behind but we will keep fighting until the league is impossible, but at the moment it's very possible."
Barcelona will be without defenders Jeremy Mathieu and Adriano and forward Sandro Ramirez through injury, while Madrid welcome back captain Sergio Ramos from suspension.
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)