BARCELONA (Reuters) - La Liga and King’s Cup champions Barcelona will be flying high when they host Real Madrid on Sunday in the ‘Clasico’ but their arch rivals will be feeling equally smug after reaching the Champions League final for a third year in a row.
After clinching a seventh league title in 10 years last Sunday, Barcelona’s only incentive is to finish the La Liga season without losing a game.
Third-placed Real’s motivation, however, is to leapfrog Atletico Madrid, who hold a four-point advantage but have played one more game.
There will be plenty of tension on the pitch in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated fixture.
Barca will be keen to further cement their domestic hegemony over Madrid and extend their gap over them to 18 points, which would be the biggest gap they have ever held over their rivals.
Zinedine Zidane’s side can avenge December’s humiliating 3-0 home defeat by Barca by snapping the Catalans’ Liga record of 42 games without defeat.
Zidane has already angered Barca by declaring his side will not give the newly crowned champions a guard of honour before kickoff, a gesture the Catalans did carry out in 2008 when Madrid had won the title.
Sunday’s game is also the first ‘Clasico’ since 2008 to take place after the title race has been decided.
Real have had a disappointing Liga campaign and could finish third for the first time in four years. But their domestic woes has not stopped them from storming into the Champions League final with a 4-3 aggregate win over Bayern Munich. In contrast Barca crashed out of Europe to AS Roma in the quarter-finals.
Madrid will play Liverpool in the final in Kiev on May 26, when they will be targeting a record-extending 13th European Cup. They will also be looking to become the first team since Bayern Munich in 1976 to win the trophy three years in a row.
Madrid captain Sergio Ramos believes winning Europe’s top prize again could trump Barca’s achievements on the domestic front.
“Barca have had a great year, they have won two trophies and they deserve credit for that but winning the Champions League is equivalent to those two or even more,” Ramos said.
He also confirmed his side would follow Zidane’s orders to deny their rivals a guard of honour.
“What Zidane says is gospel. We’re making too much fuss out of all this. Barca have the title, which is what they wanted, but there will be no guard of honour, full stop,” he said.
Elsewhere, Valencia can seal their return to the Champions League by clinching fourth spot if they win at local rivals Villarreal on Saturday.
Getafe, Sevilla, Girona and Real Sociedad will continue to fight for seventh spot and a place in next season’s Europa League, with three points separating the four teams.
Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna have already been relegated.
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar