I didn't like hearing Zinedine Zidane say that, if it comes to it, Real Madrid won't give Barcelona a guard of honour, just as I didn't like Barça not doing one for Los Blancos after the Club World Cup. It's official: the guard of honour is now, first and foremost, viewed as a humiliation for the team giving it. That's not how it began life: it was a mark of respect, a spontaneous acknowledgement of achievement. But through a combination of its ritualisation and a culture that abounds in football of seeing things through a prism of malice - above all, but by no means only, when it comes to Real and Barça - this is what it has ended up as. Recently, someone asked me whether Real would let Atlético beat them today, in a bid to make Barça wait until after the Clásico to clinch the title. That's what the game has come to.
Atleti have only finished above Real Madrid 18 times...
Of course they won't. Far from rolling over against Atlético, what is really in Real Madrid's interests is to defeat their city rivals and, in doing so, close to within a point of Los Rojiblancos in their efforts to finish ahead of them in LaLiga. As far as this league campaign goes, that's what matters in Madrid: Barça already have the championship as good as sewn up, so it's all about who comes higher in the table. Spanish-capital bragging rights. Neither wants to spend the next year hearing their neighbours crow about who finished above who. Atlético have only managed it 18 times in 86 league seasons, so it isn't so common an occurrence that they wouldn't be motivated by doing it and Real wouldn't be at pains to avoid it.
Title race may be over, but we have a proper derby in prospect
And both have pretty much got the job done in their European ties, particularly Real, who are 3-0 up. Meanwhile, Atleti's 2-0 lead, in itself a fairly reassuring scoreline to take into the return, looks all the sturdier given the row that has erupted at Sporting CP, whose players are in a war of words with their president. I don't know what kind of side he expects to send out on Thursday if he's set on suspending so many of them. So both Zidane and Diego Simeone can go with whoever they want today. The rotation policy at Real means we're all but certain to see Lucas Vázquez and Marco Asensio, possibly Gareth Bale too. Atleti don't have the same abundance of options in reserve, but boast a group of proven class all the same. We may not have a title race, but we certainly have a derby on our hands. One to relish.