Real Madrid stand in way as Barcelona bid to make his­tory

Six Primera Liga games left, in­clud­ing cla­sico, as Cata­lans aim to be­come first Span­ish team to go un­beaten in league sea­son, writes Andy Mit­ten

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL -

Barcelona play at Celta Vigo to­day hop­ing to ex­tend their record un­beaten run in Spain to 40 league matches. Barca broke the record with Satur­day’s 2-1 win against Va­len­cia, sur­pass­ing Real So­ciedad’s 38-game run in 1979/80.

With six league games re­main­ing, Barca’s next aim is to be­come the first Span­ish team to go a league sea­son un­beaten. They also have Satur­day’s Copa del Rey fi­nal against Sevilla, but there are some tricky league games ahead for Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Celta, ninth in the Primera Liga, drew 2-2 at Camp Nou in De­cem­ber. They also held Real Madrid 2-2 at home, the team they knocked out of the Copa del Rey last sea­son.

Celta can be for­mi­da­ble at the Balai­dos where the are un­beaten in 2018. They beat Sevilla 4-0 in their last home match and they de­feated Barcelona on their last visit in a thrilling 4-3 win last sea­son.

Barca have two con­sec­u­tive league games in Gali­cia as they must go to 18th-place De­portivo La Coruna af­ter Sevilla at the end of April. A 2-1 de­feat at De­portivo last March dented their ti­tle hopes.

It was to Barca’s credit that they then won 10 of their re­main­ing 11 games, with only the sin­gle up­set at Malaga.

That loss, on April 8, 2017, was the last time Barcelona were beaten in a league match.

Had they won that then they would have won the league last sea­son ahead of Madrid.

They have made no such slips this term. Valverde’s side are 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid in sec­ond and 15 ahead of Real Madrid, who they host on May 6. Madrid may be well be­hind, but they knew the league was over a long time ago and their camp is a happy one af­ter reach­ing a sev­enth con­sec­u­tive Uefa Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal.

Barca, mean­while, were elim­i­nated at the quar­ter-fi­nal stage for a fourth con­sec­u­tive sea­son. That sur­prise 3-0 de­feat in Rome was a huge blow for the Cata­lans.

It had clearly af­fected the at­mos­phere at Camp Nou on Satur­day, while their play­ers spoke more about the Roma de­feat than beat­ing a very good Va­len­cia side.

The hang­over was still so ob­vi­ous be­cause the Cham­pi­ons League is a big­ger deal than the Primera Liga. More peo­ple watch it, there is more drama of the kind we saw last week in Rome and Madrid.

It pro­vides the big­gest stage where play­ers such as Lionel Messi and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo put in the per­for­mances which win them the in­di­vid­ual awards they so cher­ish.

Messi, Spain’s top-scorer with 29 goals against the 23 scored by Luis Suarez and Ron­aldo in sec­ond, did lit­tle in the two legs against Roma.

Ron­aldo was Madrid’s star home and away against Ju­ven­tus. His last-minute penalty sealed Madrid’s pro­gres­sion.

A league sea­son spread over nine months does not quite have the same im­pact and this sea­son could fin­ish with yet an­other Euro­pean Cup for Madrid, the team who could also end Barca’s un­beaten run.

We might have seen Madrid’s play­ers form­ing a guard of honour to wel­come the new cham­pi­ons of Spain, just as Barca’s did at the Bern­abeu a decade ago.

Yet, Barcelona re­fused to give a guard of honour to Madrid af­ter they were crowned Fifa Club World Cup cham­pi­ons in De­cem­ber and Zine­dine Zi­dane has said his side will not of­fer one af­ter the Cata­lans “broke with tra­di­tion”.

Only two games re­main for Barca af­ter the cla­sico, a home match against Vil­lar­real and an away game at Le­vante, where Barca won the league in 2005. Then, the play­ers, led by the raff­ish Sa­muel Eto’o, be­gan the cel­e­bra­tions with a chant that Madrid should salute the cham­pi­ons.

It did not go down well. Nor would Madrid again eclips­ing Barca’s ex­cel­lent league sea­son be­cause of their Euro­pean ex­ploits.

Barcelona have a Copa del Rey fi­nal to con­tend with even as they fo­cus on the league’s re­main­ing six matches Reuters

EPA

Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Real Madrid travel to Camp Nou on May 6 to play the sec­ond leg of the cla­sico, where they will try to eclipse the league ex­ploits of Barcelona

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