Lopetegui does not expect harsh treatment of Pique against Italy

Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui does not expect harsh treatment of Gerard Pique from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Italy.

The Barcelona defender’s outspoken defence of his club’s interest in the intense rivalry with Real Madrid, coupled with a public sympathy for the Catalan independence movement, has led to boos from Spain fans on a number of occasions during his impressive international career.

There are concerns that matters could come to a head when Pique takes to the pitch at Madrid’s home this weekend, with Sergio Ramos having already urged fans not to target his team-mate.

Lopetegui is confident that supporters will be firmly on the player’s side during what could be a crucial Group G encounter.

“I’m not worried about the issue of Pique and the Bernabeu,” he told a news conference. “I’m sure the fans in Madrid will help the national team because we’re going to need them, especially in a moment of the game where we need their energy.”

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