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26 Feb 2018

Barcelona poised to match Arsenal's unique achievement

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The Holy Grail

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Unexpected success

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Hold your horses...

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Record breakers

(Photo credit: visitcampnou)

With their nonchalant turnover of a 1-0 deficit against Girona on Saturday, Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona equalled the record for the longest unbeaten run in a single La Liga season.

To put this achievement into perspective, the last record for an unbeaten run in the Spanish top division was also held by a Barcelona team: that belonging to a certain Pep Guardiola whose side won 27 games and drew four between matchday three and 33 of the season in 2010-11.

This record, it is important to say, is the longest unbeaten streak during a full season. For the longest unbeaten streak in La Liga history, you have to go a little further back in time.

Between April 1979 and May 1980, Real Sociedad went on an undefeated streak that lasted 38 games. Taking into account their unbeaten run from the end of last season, Barcelona are still six games off equalling the La Liga unbeaten record beyond a single season.

Once they have done this, the Barcelona team may turn their mind to another record in Spanish football - a record that hasn't been broken in its 89-year history - going an entire La Liga season unbeaten.

The Holy Grail

Going unbeaten through the course of a season is a surprising rarity in the history of European football. In the top five leagues, only four teams have managed to go through an entire season without losing a single game. 

The English top division boasts two Invincible teams: the 1888-89 Preston North End side and the more recent Arsenal Invincible team of 2003-04, the stretch of time between them indicating the relative difficulty of running a whole season unbeaten.

The other two Invincible teams from the top five leagues in Europe are Serie A sides: Milan, who were Invincible in 1992-3 under the management of Fabio Capello, and Juventus, who went unbeaten in the 2011-12 season under Antonio Conte.

Special mention must go to Perugia in 1978-79 who went unbeaten and yet still finished in second place behind Milan, and Celtic in 2016–17 who picked up an unprecedented unbeaten domestic Treble under manager Brendan Rodgers. This unbeaten run eventually ran for 69 games in total.

For this Barcelona team to go Invincible in the course of a season, then, would be for them to join the echelons of a very select group of European grandees.

Unexpected success

What makes Barcelona's current run even more impressive is the fact that they began the season with such low expectations.

Losing 5-1 over two legs to rivals Real Madrid in August, it looked to all intents and purposes that Barcelona could spend the season in the shadow of Zinedine Zidane's side.

Six months later and Barcelona have only lost once - a 1-0 loss to Espanyol in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal, a double header that Barcelona eventually ran out winning anyway.

In fact, Espanyol have made a habit of ending unbeaten runs this season. When they beat Atletico Madrid in December, they ended their unbeaten run and prevented there being an unprecedented scenario where two teams went unbeaten in the course of a season.

This Barcelona team feels a little patchwork - a little transitional. Beginning the season with a new manager in Ernesto Valverde, they are also fast approaching a moment in which aging personnel will need to be up-graded for more youthful talent.

With Philippe Coutinho being brought in as an eventual replacement for Andres Iniesta, allowing the two to rotate between the league and cup games, this process has already been begun. 

However, much of the time, this season has felt more like a period of re-building than a record-breaking title-tilt.

Hold your horses...

Of course, there is still a long way for Valverde's men to go. Thirteen games await them, including fixtures against outside title challengers Atletico Madrid in March and the upcoming El Clasico fixture in May.

The clash with Real Madrid may be at home for Barcelona. However, with only four games to go before the season ends, expect the current Spanish champions to be keen to prevent Barcelona from making their record.

With a season of success comes a backlog of games too. Barcelona are still in the Copa del Rey - facing Sevilla in the final in April - and the Champions League, taking a 1-1 draw with Chelsea into the second leg at Camp Nou.

Continued success in both competition, though, will only add an extra seven games to their schedule, meaning that Valverde will only need to plan for twenty more fixtures this season.

Record breakers

In some senses, that Valverde has his team on the brink of a record-breaking season indicates a shift that seems to be occurring in elite football.

Valverde's approach to management is fairly unique when it comes to elite football. Having signed Paulinho in the summer, eyebrows were raised around Spain. A player who had left Spurs having disappointed was hardly the sort of Galactico-style signing that the elite teams engage in now.

With Pep Guardiola constructing a team that oozes coherence as well as class, Barcelona offer another example of this new football where the team is becoming greater than the sum of its parts, even when those parts are of the utmost pedigree.

Do you think Barcelona can go unbeaten this season? Let us know by commenting below.