Real hope 'father figure' Carvalho can tame Messi

Eurozone

Former Chelsea central defender Ricardo Carvalho faces Lionel Messi in Monday's Clasico having been declared the bargain of the summer by Real Madrid director general Jorge Valdano.

When Jose Mourinho asked for his former player in the close season, Valdano led the scepticism over signing a player whose best days looked to be behind him.

But the 32-year-old Portuguese international has been the linchpin of the meanest defence in the league and scored twice himself. Valdano said: "We needed a father figure on the pitch but we did not know what kind of physical condition he was in. He has been superb this season and physically he is like a teenager."

Carvalho has the job of stopping Messi on Monday with the Argentine on a run of scoring in all of his past 10 matches and finding the back of the net 67 times in his past 67 games.

Cesc Fabregas has admitted he would probably never have left Barcelona if Pep Guardiola had been first-team coach back in 2003. The Arsenal midfielder said: "I would not say that I envy young players like [Sergi] Busquets and Pedro but I do think they have had a bit of luck that some of us others did not have by virtue of having Guardiola as the coach." Limited opportunities for younger players under Frank Rijkaard was one of the reasons why Fabregas moved to Arsenal as a 16-year-old. The Gunners captain backed Barça to win a tight Clasico, saying: "They are unplayable at the moment but Real Madrid are already looking a lot like Chelsea under Mourinho and it will be very close."

Rafa Benitez takes his Internazionale side into tomorrow's home game with Parma breathing easier after ensuring qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League, beating FC Twente in midweek, but will have to do so without Samuel Eto'o, who has scored 16 of the team's 26 goals this season.

Eto'o serves the first of a three-match ban for head-butting Chievo's Bostjan Cesar and Benitez is still without Diego Milito. Parma will have Hernan Crespo leading their forward line. The Argentine scored against one of his former clubs – Lazio – last week and will be looking to do the same against the club where he spent four seasons.

Leaders Milan are on a run of five straight wins in all competitons and face Sampdoria away tonight.

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