Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has defended the decision for his players not to form a guard of honour for LaLiga champions Barcelona in Sunday’s Clasico at the Nou Camp.
Ernesto Valverde’s Barca clinched the title last weekend with a 4-2 victory at Deportivo La Coruna, and are four games away from going through the entire league campaign unbeaten.
But there will be no guard of honour on Sunday evening, with Zidane irked that the Catalan club did not see his side out onto the pitch after their Club World Cup triumph in December.
“They did not do it (for us) and we, with respect, are not going to do it because they did not do it,” Zidane said on Saturday at his pre-match press conference, quoted on his club’s website. “We respect what Barcelona did, which is to win the league and is the most difficult thing for me, as I have always said. I congratulate them, and this is respect.
“I will clarify the subject. I’m not the one to decide that the guard of honour is not made. After the Club World Cup, I understand that for them it was not important to make it (for us). Some say they were not in the competition, but you have to win the Champions League to play the Club World Cup, and we are all in the Champions League.”
The deposed champions head to Barcelona 15 points adrift of their hosts and amid reports they may rest the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos with one eye on their Champions League final date with Liverpool later this month, but Zidane insists there will be no lack of motivation from the visitors.
“You do not have to think about the injuries, and have to play the match with intensity, which is the best way to prepare for the final,” said the Frenchman, whose side sit third but still have second-placed Atletico Madrid in their sights.
“It is true that this year LaLiga is decided and there is less expectation, but that is normal. Before the game it will be like that, but when it starts I do not think there will be little expectation.
“We have four games (left in the league) and we will prepare in the best way because we have to finish as high as possible.
“It’s one more match, but against Barcelona, there’s more motivation.”
🔊 Ernesto Valverde: "The El ClÃ¡sico is an important game. We're the champions, but we want to win and be motivated on the field due to what this game means to the fans and for our competitiveness." #ElClÃ¡sico pic.twitter.com/G3yAjHEHs0— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 5, 2018
Zidane’s opposite number was also keen to stress there would be no easing-off from his side despite their title success.
“El Clasico is El Clasico, and it’s always a very significant match in the season,” Barca coach Valverde said at his pre-match press conference. “Fortunately, we are already champions, but it means a lot for the two fan-bases, for the competitiveness of the two.
“We want to win, regardless of the standings. And obviously they do, too. They will come out trying to break our streak, and I hope it’s a good match.
“I would like all Clasicos to be this way. It would be more exciting if we were closer in the standings, but for me it’s fine like this.”
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Hoy ha sido un día que estará marcado siempre en mi vida. Solo puedo dar las gracias a todos. Innumerables muestras de cariño y afecto que tendré siempre en mi corazón. A todos y cada uno de vosotros, GRACIAS. #siemprecule #micasa #quebonitoesestedeporte #agradecimientoeterno
Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta has been nursing a calf injury ahead of what would be his final Clasico, having announced late last month he will leave his boyhood club at the end of the season.
“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.”