Barca eye Liga record of 38 games without defeat


BARCELONA – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde will target a record-equalling 38th straight game without defeat when his side host Leganes on Saturday, a Liga milestone which former bosses Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, and Luis Enrique were incapable of achieving.

The runaway leaders have not lost in the league since going down 2-0 at Malaga on April 8, 2017, and can match Real Sociedad’s 38-year-old unbeaten run against Leganes, who are 14th in the standings with their top-flight status virtually guaranteed.

Barca have a nine-point lead over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid at the top of the standings and could further widen that gap by the end of the weekend, with Atletico facing a gruelling derby away to champions Real Madrid on Sunday.

The Catalans looked destined to fall painfully short of the record, which has stood since 1980 when they were two goals down with two minutes left at Sevilla last week but quick-fire strikes from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi sealed a 2-2 draw.

That late fightback was the eighth time this season they had come back from a losing position in the league to either win or draw and was the latest demonstration of the inner steel that has underpinned Valverde’s debut campaign in charge.

Barca are also unbeaten in the Champions League this campaign and took a giant stride towards the semi-finals of the competition by beating AS Roma 4-1 on Wednesday, staying on course for a treble.

The Catalans were not at their best against Roma and benefited from two own goals, yet the fact they were able to record such an emphatic win without hitting top gear was another sign of how robust they have become under Valverde.

“All I care about is that the team keeps on winning,” said midfielder Ivan Rakitic following the victory over Roma.

“We are still winning and we are growing in every game. Right now we are at the most exciting stage of the season but also the toughest part.”

With eight games remaining and no away trips against top-eight opposition left, Barca are also strongly-placed to become the first team in the history of La Liga to finish a season without tasting defeat.

They do, however, still have to play at home to champions Real Madrid and fourth-placed Valencia.

Real Sociedad narrowly missed out on going a whole Liga campaign unbeaten in 1980, losing their penultimate game of the season to Sevilla, which ended a 38-game unbeaten spell across two campaigns and also saw them surrender the league title to Real Madrid.

Real are third in the standings but would move to within a point of second-placed Atletico with a victory on Sunday, although they have not managed to beat their crosstown rivals at home in the league since 2012.