Sunday’s El Clasico will inevitably captured the imagination of supporters of both clubs, as well as a worldwide television audience, yet amongst the players and staff of both teams, the match has turned into an exercise in bragging with neither club having anything tangible to play for.
The Camp Nou will be full of revellers looking to celebrate Barcelona’s La Liga title win, as well as marking Andres Iniesta’s final Clasico as a Los Cules player.
For Real Madrid, the match offers them very little aside from pride, they are unlikely to be able to catch Atletico Madrid and finish second, whilst their own defence of the title ended in earnest back in December.
Despite the fact it’s been such a dismal domestic campaign for Los Blancos, they can take solace in the fact the club are headed to their third successive Champions League final, with victory over Liverpool in Kiev handing them their third consecutive success.
This is where the bragging begins, the match has an added edge courtesy of the ongoing guard of honour issue, however it seems as though both sets of players are posturing that their achievement is more noteworthy than the other, with Sergio Ramos inevitable making his feelings clear.
“Barcelona have won the LaLiga title and Copa del Rey and that’s great for them,” he explained.
“However, we’re able to do something that people said was impossible.
“We’re very motivated to make it three in a row in the Champions League.”
Zinedine Zidane has long known that the only way of salvaging the season would come through the Champions League, and with victory over Bayern Munich in the semi final, he now has to begin preparing for Liverpool.
Normally, clashes between Real Madrid and Barcelona have a tangible meaning with regards to league standings or a domestic cup final, yet on this occasion there really isn’t anything to play for.
The French coach has been known for his rotation policy, and it would be a disaster to lose a key player with the final set to take place on May 26.
It’s understood that the former Juventus midfielder may even consider it appropriate to rest some of his more important stars on Sunday, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos in line to be left on the bench.
It will also depend on who is feeling fatigued following the midweek clash with Bayern Munich, the Frenchman doesn’t want to take any risks with players, hence why Casemiro was left on the bench on Tuesday.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are so in-tune with that the other is doing that it often becomes a problem. The two clubs have had difficulties assessing their own seasons in years gone by without judging it against that of their fiercest rival.
The Blaugrana’s domestic successes this term have been mightily impressive, especially with the fact they are still on course for an unbeaten La Liga campaign. However, you get the sense that those behind the scenes in Catalonia are fixated on the club’s Champions League elimination at the hands of Roma, whilst Los Blancos are on the cusp of cementing their status as a dynasty in the tournament.
No single team has won three European Cups in a row since Bayern Munich in 1972, 1973 and 1974. Real Madrid can match that accomplishment, and it’s creating a feeling on envy at the Camp Nou.
Ernesto Valverde has done a fine job this term, yet he’s already experiencing the behind the scenes drama which often takes hold of the club, something which left both Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique emotionally drained by the time they left.
The manner in which Los Cules slipped to elimination at the Stadio Olimpico created a frenzy amongst the club’s hierarchy, they feel as though the performance was unacceptable, especially after being in such a strong position from the first leg.
It’s not that Valverde’s job is under review, but the fact there has been no concrete assurance from Josep Maria Bartomeu that the former Athletic Club coach will be in charge next season is concerning. There is even a school of thought that the Spaniard may even look to walk himself and go out on such a high.
Had Real Madrid been eliminated earlier in the tournament, then it’s highly likely that the dismay in Catalonia would be toned down quite significantly.
Whilst Sunday’s encounter isn’t going to be the most dramatic, it will still pit two excellent football teams against each other and the mutual distaste is no secret. Titles aren’t on the line, but professional pride is and both teams will be eager to show just who is superior.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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