The La Liga title race is over, but Sid Lowe explains why emotions will still be high when Barcelona face Real Madrid for the last time this season.
BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde doesn’t think Real Madrid’s refusal to give his Barcelona side a guard of honour before Sunday’s Clasico at Camp Nou should be seen as disrespectful.
Barca clinched the La Liga title by beating Deportivo La Coruna last weekend and it’s tradition in Spain for the new league champions to be given a guard of honour by their next opponents.
However, Zinedine Zidane has already explained that Madrid will do no such thing, saying that Barca’s decision not to give his side one following Los Blancos‘ Club World Cup success in December set a precedent he does not want to go back on.
Barca’s reason for not giving Madrid a guard of honour back then was that they had not taken part in the same tournament, a rule which doesn’t apply this weekend.
“We have spoken about this a lot already, but we are not giving it too much importance,” Valverde said in a news conference on Saturday.
“I don’t consider it disrespectful. There’s a lot of noise about this — so much furore has been made about an issue that really doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”
The other debate currently raging between the two clubs focuses on their respective achievements this season.
Barca have already sealed a domestic double but their success could be overshadowed if Madrid manage to win the Champions League for a third consecutive year when they face Liverpool in the final in Kiev, Ukraine later this month.
Ernesto Valverde insisted that Real Madrid’s refusal to give Barca a guard of honour was no big deal.
Valverde, though, like Zidane, feels league success counts for more than European trophies.
“As coaches, the league is the competition that shows how well you have performed throughout the whole year, the best team over the season wins [the title],” he said.
“In the Champions League, you can have an off day [and you’re out]. You need some luck, because [if you have] bad luck, you’re out. More teams can win the Champions League, but it’s just a select few who can [win La Liga] because you have to sustain a high level of consistency all season.”
Barca’s domestic double, complete with their seventh league title in 10 years and their fourth straight Copa del Rey, will take on extra significance if they can beat Madrid and go on to end the season without losing a league game.
Unbeaten through 34 La Liga matches, they’re aiming to become the first team since Madrid in 1932 to go an entire top-flight season unbeaten — and the first ever in a 38-game season.
“Only two other teams have done it, Athletic Bilbao [in 1930] and Madrid,” Valverde said when asked about Barca’s desire to remain unbeaten in their final four games of the season.
“And that was a long, long time ago, back in the 1930s when there were only 18 games [in a season]. No one has done it in the modern era. It’s something I’m treating as important, for sure. It will be difficult to do, though, because there are still some tough games to come.
“But we want to get as many points as we can, we want to stay unbeaten and we want to beat Madrid. Even though we’re already champions, we still have a lot to play for.”
Valverde has a fully fit squad to choose from for Madrid’s visit, with Andres Iniesta returning to full training on Friday ahead of his last Clasico appearance.
“Andres Iniesta has got recognition from everyone because of what he’s given Barca and Spanish football, which is a lot,” Valverde said.
“The most important thing is how he is. If he is fit, he will play.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.