Given that Barcelona established an unassailable 11-point lead at the top of La Liga after a 4-2 win over Deportivo La Coruna last Sunday, and Real Madrid has a date with Liverpool in the Champions League Final on May 26 it might be easy to overlook what is at stake in El Clásico this Sunday at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona has already set new records for the longest unbeaten run (41 games) in the history of La Liga, and for the most games unbeaten at the start of a season (34). The run started after a loss away from home to Malaga on April 8 of last year.
If Barcelona can extend the run over the four games remaining in this 2018 campaign then they will become the first Spanish team to go undefeated in a 38-game La Liga season.
The last team to go unbeaten through an entire top-flight season in Spain was Real Madrid in 1932 but back then the season comprised only 18 games and the league just 10 teams.
This season Real Madrid could not stop Barcelona completing an 8th domestic double (La Liga and Copa del Rey) but bringing the home side’s unbeaten run to a halt and beating Barcelona for the first time since a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou over two years ago would offer some consolation in terms of the rivalry.
There is also the scoring race between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. In league goals, Messi leads all scorers in Europe in the Golden Boot standings – awarded to Europe’s top scorer. Messi is currently two goals ahead of Mo Salah but the Liverpool striker only has a maximum of two games left to play.
Messi has scored 32 league goals in 33 La Liga games while an early-season injury has restricted Cristiano Ronaldo to 25 games and 24 goals.
Messi has a one-goal edge on Ronaldo when the criterion is extended to goals in all club competitions. Messi has 43 goals in 51 games; Ronaldo 42 goals in 41 games.
Remarkably, Messi has now scored more than 40 goals for his club in each of the last nine seasons; Ronaldo has a run of eight seasons with more than 40 goals and he would surely have made it nine if not for an injury in his first season with Real Madrid in 2009/10 that restricted his appearances to 35 games.
It has been said that Real Madrid made the European Cup and the European Cup made Real Madrid.
By winning the first five European Cups in style between 1956 and 1960, Real guaranteed that the club would be forever synonymous with Europe’s premier trophy.
Now, six decades later Real Madrid is again the dominant force in European competition and is just a game away from winning the Champions League for the third straight season and for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
On Tuesday, Real Madrid qualified for a record 16th Champions League/European Cup Final. Real has won the trophy 12 times and its last loss came in 1981 to Liverpool. The only other defeats were to Benfica in 1962 and to Inter two years later.
The 12 wins have come courtesy of three intense periods of success (1956-60, 3 between 1998 and 2002, and the latest spell of 3 wins between 2014 and 2017) with a win in 1966 finally marking the end of Real’s first great era.
However, a closer look at the record books shows that success in the Champions League has rarely been reflected in domestically in the same season.
Of the 12 European wins, only three times has Real won La Liga in the same season. Two came in 1957 and 1958 and the other last year. Only once has Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey to go with the Champions League and that was in 2014. The triple of Champions League, La Liga, and Copa del Rey has evaded the club for 63 seasons.
On the other hand, bitter rivals Barcelona has tended to feast on success when it has come along. Six times Barça have won the Champions League and each time it has been matched with winning La Liga. Twice (2009 and 2015) the Copa del Rey was added making it a treble.
For bonus content, you can catch Eoin O’Callaghan, Luke Crofford, and me, weekly on the Soccer Report Extra Podcast on iTunes or by going to the Soccer Report Extra Facebook page.
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