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Apr 10, 2018

Last summer, the omens did not look good for Barcelona fans. Having sacked manager Luis Enrique after a second-place finish in La Liga, the club had taken a risk in replacing him with the untried Ernesto Valverde. That appointment was followed by the loss of star striker Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and the failure to bring Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool to Catalonia. It seemed as though another season of disappointment beckoned.

However, eight months later, things are looking very different. Barça are 11 points clear of Atlético Madrid at the top of the table, and are the overwhelming favourites to win La Liga. Virtually assured of a Champions League semi-final spot, they could clinch a rare treble if they beat Sevilla to win the Copa del Rey final later this month.

They are also on the brink of breaking one of the longest-standing records in the history of La Liga, set by Real Sociedad, who went 38 league games unbeaten between April 1979 and May 1980. Barça equalled that feat with a 3-1 victory over Leganés, and will set a new record if they can avoid defeat in their next match, at home to Valencia.

However, Valverde’s men have their sights set on an even more impressive record. When they lost their penultimate league game at Sevilla in May 1980, Sociedad missed out on becoming the first Spanish club to go unbeaten throughout a whole league season, but that record is still up for grabs if Barça can avoid defeat in their remaining seven games.

The dominance of Barça this season has been the result of some shrewd management by the unheralded Valverde, who has rebalanced the team, reducing their reliance on their forwards; organised the defence; and got the best out of Lionel Messi, who has put in some vintage performances. The addition of Paulinho has also helped to take the pressure off the forwards, and brought more solidity to their play. After 34 games without defeat, the merits of Valverde’s methods cannot be doubted – but can they set the record?

There is one obvious hurdle to clear. Of their remaining seven league games, the tie against Real Madrid on 6th May is the toughest. Zinedine Zidane’s side have had a poor season, but they will relish the chance to stop Barça achieving their historic unbeaten feat. There is also the question of fixture congestion. Besides their league assignments, Barça will have to play three more Champions League fixtures and the final of the Copa del Rey.

However, this Barça squad is deep and resilient. They have the resources to stay competitive even at the end of such a long, hard season, and enough experience in their ranks to come through the difficult challenges that lie ahead. There is every chance that by the time they complete their final league game, which fittingly is against Real Sociedad, they will have made Spanish football history by going through an entire league campaign unbeaten.


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