Barcelona defender Lucas Digne has admitted he and his team-mates are desperate to avoid surrendering their unbeaten La Liga record to Real Madrid on Sunday.
Barca are four games away from adding a first invincible La Liga season to their domestic double but this weekend they host a Real side in form, and buoyed by their run to the Champions League final.
This Clasico at the Camp Nou may not carry much importance in terms of the table but Real’s success in Europe is threatening to overshadow Barca’s success in the league.
Digne, speaking exclusively to AFP, said finishing the campaign undefeated has now become key.
“It’s that consistency, it shows the hard work of the whole group throughout the season, it’s huge,” Digne said.
“Of course, this is a record the team now wants to go for. It is important for us and we will give everything to hold on to it.”
Barca also still feel the need to atone for their Champions League collapse against Roma, which hangs over the club, despite their domestic success.
Real’s subsequent march to the final has only deepened the sense of disappointment.
“Real winning the Champions League is still hypothetical, it is not done yet,” Digne said.
“There are two sides to our season — we would have hoped to go further in the Champions League and we thought we could have won it but that didn’t happen.
“The double is still something exceptional and we are still undefeated in the league. We have to remember it is still a very strong season.”
There is an undercurrent that this meeting with Real will go some way to defining how Barcelona’s season is perceived.
When it comes to El Clasico, there is no such thing as a dead rubber.
“Quite simply, it’s the biggest match in the world,” Digne said. “There is an expectation that is just amazing and a rivalry between the two clubs that goes back a very long way.
“It is felt from the supporters, to the players, to everyone. It is really a special atmosphere.”
Digne is coming to the end of his second season at Barca, having joined from Paris Saint-Germain in 2016.
He remains the number two to Jordi Alba at left-back but is highly thought of by coach Ernesto Valverde, with whom he enjoys a strong relationship.
“The coach has added so much to us tactically and defensively — we are much stronger and the results prove it,” Digne said.
“He asks us to defend properly because we are a team that attacks a lot. We have become more balanced and harder to beat.”
Real have indicated they will not be giving the champions a guard of honour but the suggestion is the teams may come together to salute Andres Iniesta, who is playing his final Clasico before leaving at the end of the season.
Digne places the 33-year-old among the finest players in the history of the game.
“I am proud to have played with a player like him,” Digne said. “For me he’s one of the greatest players of all time, an idol on and off the field. We will do everything we can on the pitch to say thank you.” – Agence France-Presse