Football: Real respect Barca but rule out guard of honour

Zinedine Zidane is planning to name his strongest available side against Barcelona.
Zinedine Zidane is planning to name his strongest available side against Barcelona. PHOTO: AFP

MADRID • Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Real Madrid will not give LaLiga champions Barcelona a guard of honour when the sides meet in El Clasico.

Barcelona wrapped up the title last weekend and face the European champions today.

"After the Club World Cup they didn't want to do it for us," Zidane told a news conference yesterday.

"They might have said they didn't do it because they weren't in the competition, but that's not true. You've got to win the Champions League to play in it and we're both in the Champions League.

"It's not up to me to decide about the guard of honour but they didn't do it. We, with respect, won't do it for them because they didn't.

"We respect what Barca have done in winning the league, which for me is the most difficult and nicest thing you can do. But these things happen. If they'd have given us one, we weren't going to break the tradition of doing so."

The incident he was referring to happened before the Clasico on Dec 23 when, after Real returned from the United Arab Emirates as Club World Cup winners, Barcelona elected not to give them a guard of honour as is traditional in Spain. Barca won the match 3-0.

Real, third in the table, secured their place in this month's Champions League final on Tuesday and are aiming to win the trophy for the third year in a row. But Zidane is planning to name his strongest available side against Barcelona.

The Frenchman expects defender Raphael Varane and forward Isco, who have been recovering from injury, to travel to the Catalans' Nou Camp.

"While the game won't change the league positions, we still want to play well and do everything we can to win," Zidane said. "We can't think about (avoiding injuries). We have to focus on the game and on playing with intensity."

For Barcelona, the game represents a chance to take one more step towards a first invincible LaLiga season. They are four matches away from that feat.

Said Barcelona defender Lucas Digne: "It's that consistency, it shows the hard work of the whole group throughout the season, it's huge. Of course, this is a record the team now wants to go for. It is important for us and we will give everything to hold on to it."

He was keen to stress that there is no such thing as a dead rubber in this fixture.

"Quite simply, it's the biggest match in the world," the France international said. "There is an expectation that is just amazing and a rivalry between the two clubs that goes back a very long way."

Today's clash will be the final time Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta plays in the fixture, having announced that he will leave the Catalans at the end of the season.

According to Spanish media, the midfielder will definitely feature, but he could be brought off the substitutes' bench due to a calf problem.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 06, 2018, with the headline 'Real respect Barca but rule out guard of honour'. Print Edition | Subscribe