Interestingly, Girona FC play in the final fixture of Matchday 14, on Monday night, so their title rivals will look to put the pressure on before the leaders are back in action.
Real Madrid make the short trip across town to face Atletico Madrid in the city derby on Sunday after a remarkable week.
Last Saturday saw Carlo Ancelotti’s men crowned La Liga champions with four games left to play, while Wednesday saw them produce yet another miracle comeback in the Champions League with two goals in the last two minutes to book their place in the tournament final.
The reality is that Real Madrid have little more than pride to play for on Sunday against their local rivals and in their remaining three matches, but a derby is always a derby, with more than just local pride at stake.
“This sort of game is good for us because it gives us the chance to maintain our rhythm and our work. It’s true that we are not playing for the league, but it is very important to maintain our rhythm and to respect the competition,” said Ancelotti in his pre-game press conference.
“We have to play rivals who have a lot at stake and we are obliged to do the maximum.”
Atletico do need the points as they look to assure a place in next season’s Champions League and this weekend will be decisive.
With Real Sociedad losing to Levante on Friday night, Real Betis are Atletico’s only real rivals for fourth place, and they have to play FC Barcelona on Saturday night. A win for Betis would put them level on points with Diego Simeone’s men, but if Barca win or take a draw, Atletico would have the chance to go five or more points clear with just three games left to play.
There is also the small matter of the ‘guard of honour’ that teams traditionally make for rivals that have just won the league or cup. Atletico’s players have said they will not grant that honour to Real Madrid as their fans don’t want it to happen, reports Xinhua.
If indeed they fail to applaud Real Madrid onto the pitch, it would be a display that says nothing good about the sportsmanship of Atletico’s fans and players — although it could then give more of a spark to the game itself, despite Ancelotti’s diplomacy in his pre-game press conference.
“Everyone should do what they want to do, we respect Atletico, they are our friends and neighbours and I respect their coach and their fans. We will respect what they do,” said the Italian, who added that Andriy Lunin would play in goal with Thibaut Courtois rested.
(Inputs from IANS)