- Barcelona has already won the league, and Real Madrid's place in the Champions League next season is secure, but there are still plenty of enticing aspects to the final Clasico of the season.
Sunday won't feature your average edition of El Clasico.
There are no title stakes in play (Barcelona saw to that weeks ago before sealing the deal last weekend). Neither side is on the verge of shockingly falling out of Champions League contention (Real Madrid saw to that with its recent surge). The outcome won't change a thing when it comes to competitive matters. Yet there are still plenty of reasons to tune in for the world's preeminent rivalry bout.
It might not be as intense or cagey as has come to be expected, but here's what the final Clasico of the season could entail:
Barcelona's run at Spanish immortality–and Real Madrid's chance to stop it
It's downright ridiculous that Barcelona's season–especially that of first-year manager Ernesto Valverde–will be seen in some corners as a disaster because of one horrible collapse in Rome. The Champions League title is certainly the most prestigious club crown on the planet, but does a domestic double mean nothing anymore? Especially one in which a team has gone undefeated in the league to pull it off? The three-goal capitulation vs. Roma was inexcusable, but that doesn't take away from what's been accomplished since August.
No team in La Liga history has had an "Invincible" season, and Barcelona is four games away from achieving it, despite not meeting the aesthetic standard set by past Barcelona sides. Real Madrid presents a final hurdle, and a tall one at that, but if Barcelona clears it with a win or a draw (its last home loss in any competition came last August in the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid, when the thought of an undefeated campaign was laughable), then it's in for a relatively easy landing on its road to history.
So, no, Barcelona won't win the Champions League this season, and, yes, Real Madrid just might yet again, but a season sweep of its rival and an undefeated league campaign would be plenty for the Catalans to boast. And for Real Madrid, taking that joy away from Barcelona–and snapping its record 41-match unbeaten streak in the league–would certainly help make up for an uneven domestic season, at least by its lofty standards.
Petty rivalry drama
Real Madrid still has its feelings hurt because Barcelona didn't provide a guard of honor in their meeting after the former captured the Club World Cup title this past December. So Zinedine Zidane and Sergio Ramos have made it clear that Real Madrid will act in kind and refuse a guard of honor for Barcelona after it captured La Liga's championship. I'm sure that'll really put a damper on Barcelona's title and hit 'em where it hurts, guys. Oh, the disrespect.
Gentlemen, get over yourselves.
A farewell Clasico for Iniesta
Andres Iniesta is leaving Barcelona at the end of the season, and for the midfield maestro, this will be his final marquee game in a Barcelona shirt. He's already lifted the Copa del Rey trophy and hit the bus parade circuit to celebrate the Spanish league title, and Barcelona still has two more home games remaining in which he can receive his final curtain call. But there's always something special about getting one when Real Madrid is on the opposing end of the field and Camp Nou is at its peak atmosphere.
Reports out of Spain suggest that Iniesta may not be fully fit and that he is battling a calf muscle injury. With a World Cup on the horizon, there's no reason to push Iniesta into 90-minute, or even 60-minute duty. But giving the club legend a final bow at Camp Nou and a cameo against a sworn enemy should be on the docket for Barcelona.
Is there a chance this is the last Messi-Ronaldo Clasico showdown?
Nobody really seems to be considering this, but hear me out. Messi isn't going anywhere, but in recent summers we've heard about Real Madrid moving in a new direction and parting ways with Cristiano Ronaldo. The 33-year-old trophy magnet has evidently calmed from his alleged tax-evasion-lack-of-support tantrum last summer and remains as vital as ever to Real Madrid's success. Just look at what he's done in the last couple of months, most notably in the Champions League. But even with that run of form, and even if Real Madrid were to win another Champions League title, would it be crazy to think that he could leave this summer?
Russia 2018 will be the final World Cup for both superstars at the height of their powers (or so we assume), and it's at that juncture in a star player's career when he considers a drastic club move. Of course, there's the matter of finding a suitor who can handle Ronaldo's wages, a massive transfer fee and the dynamic change he'd bring to the locker room, which is why no real options emerged when it appeared an exit was plausible. And then there's the matter of Ronaldo's quest for all of the Ballon d'Or trophies on the planet, and where better to win those than by winning European titles with Real Madrid?
But if the recent past has shown anything, it's that Ronaldo's whims can change quicker than he can rise for a bicycle kick. And with Real Madrid continuously linked to threats to his spotlight–Neymar, Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski among them–and expected to drop a massive transfer outlay despite its European success, would it really be so stunning to see him want out come July? If his tenure at Real Madrid can come close to an abrupt end before, what's to say it won't again, especially at this potential inflection point in his career? Change is the only constant at Real Madrid. Look, there may yet be more Messi-Ronaldo Clasico showdowns, but don't take for granted that the world's two greatest goal scorers will always be going head-to-head.