Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has explained that Barcelona’s previous behaviour is the reason his team will not offer a ‘pasillo‘ guard of honour to the new Liga champions at the Camp Nou on Sunday evening, while denying it is a “failure” on his team’s part that this Clasico arrives at a time when the title is already decided.
The late-season clash comes with hosts Barcelona having already secured the 2017-18 league title and Copa del Rey, but with Madrid focused on winning a third consecutive Champions League final when they face Liverpool in Kiev on May 26.
Amid a debate over which of these achievements counts the most, there has also been a lot of talk about whether Madrid would show a lack of respect for their rivals by not performing the pasillo.
The Blancos coach told the prematch news conference that Barca’s players deciding against honouring Madrid before last December’s reverse fixture at the Bernabeu — the first match after Madrid lifted the FIFA Club World Cup — had set a precedent he did not want to go back on.
“I am not the one who decides if there is a pasillo,” Zidane said. “We must explain the situation — after the Club World Cup I understand it was not important for them to do it.
“Some say it is as they were not in the competition, but that is not true. You have to win the Champions League to get to the Club World Cup, and we are all in that.
“So they did not do it. We respect what Barca have done, to win La Liga is the most difficult, I have always said that. I congratulate them.
“If they had done the pasillo… I am not breaking any tradition, but neither will I do something that they did not do.”
Madrid go into the game 15 points adrift of Barca and four points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid, with a game in hand over their local rivals.
Zidane admitted his team’s poor autumn meant it was “not a good season” but denied it should be termed as a “failure” arriving at this point without a chance to defend the title won last year.
“It is not a failure,” he said. “It is not a good season, in La Liga. Above all at the start, the end has been much closer to what we must do. But we still cannot talk of failure. It is true that this year, with the league decided, there is less expectation, but that is normal. Whe the game begins, I don’t believe the excitement levels will be low.”
Asked about fitness doubts Raphael Varane and Isco, Zidane said he would decide his team on the day of the game.
“We will see how we are going to play,” he said. “It is a game with three points on the line, where the table will not change, but for us it is a game we have to play well and do everything possible to win.
“On those players, if anyone feels a problem they will not play. We have many players to come in for those missing, and that is the most important thing. Tomorrow we will travel, then we will see if there is any change.”
Zidane said he would not be picking his XI worrying about star players potentially getting injured and missing the UCL final against Liverpool in three weeks’ time.
“I am not going to think about that, as if I did we would not even play tomorrow,” he said. “We must play as we always do, try everything to win. The only thing is that if a player is not at 100 percent, he will not play, but the others will.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan