With a La Liga title and Copal del Rey glory, Barcelona unarguably ended their 2017-2018 season on a high note. But the Catalans would rue one thing: Inability to preserve their unbeaten run, after losing 5-4 to Levante at the Estadio Ciudad de Valencia. Before that loss, however, many teams have attempted to break the jinx. CRISNG’S Israel Igiri takes a look at some of the five key battles that tested Barcelona’s unbeaten journey before they eventually bowed to Levante.
Not many saw it coming. In the course of the season, Ernesto Valverde’s side have crossed several hurdles that have ensured they are without defeat. But Levante had other plans. Before the encounter, Levante had won five of their last six games in La Liga to move well clear of the relegation zone. And against Barcelona, they proved they are a side to reckon with, doing the seemingly impossible by breaking Barcelona’s unbeaten run.
But before the match, Barcelona had had five standout battles which they survived to keep their quest of beating Real Sociedad’s all-time record of 32 league games unbeaten from the 1979-1980 season intact, and here they are.
Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
After being denied an obvious goal which had crossed the line in the first half, Barcelona found themselves trailing second-placed Valencia at the Mestalla after 60 minutes following Moreno Rodrigo’s goal. It looked as if they would leave Valencia with nothing but Lionel Messi’s superb pass from outside the area eight minutes from time found Jordi Alba who volleyed in to ensure a share of the spoils for the Blaugrana.
Sevilla 2-2 Barcelona
Franco Vazquez and Luis Muriel had fired Sevilla into a 2-0 lead over a Messi-less Barcelona at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in the first 45 minutes. Messi was not fit to start the game and in his absence, the Catalans were chasing shadows for almost an hour. Ernesto Valverde side’s hopes of going unbeaten were moments away from being shattered. But as soon as the Argentine entered the pitch in the 57th minute, the league leaders started to create chances. They were still 2-0 down but hope had returned. And just as it seemed as if the Vicenzo Montella’s side would see out a superb victory on the night, Luis Suarez pulled a goal back in the 88th minute. And in less than a minute again, the extraordinary Messi came to his side’s rescue as he fired home from the edge of the box to seal a 2-2 draw.
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Barcelona
Atletico’s home ground is always a very difficult place to any side in Europe to go and get a decent result. Only few teams leave there without getting hurt. Going into the contest at the Wanda Metropolitano, Diego Simeone’s side were six points adrift of table –toppers Barcelona and needed to win close down the gap to three points. Saul Niguez’s 21st minute fine curled strike from outside the box was looking to be the decider of the tie as the Roji Blancos sat deep at the back and looked comfortable to hold on to a 1-0 victory. But with eight minutes to go, Barcelona found the goal they had been looking for as Sergi Roberto whipped in a fine cross to the far post which Luis Suarez powerfully headed into the net, silencing the home fans and giving his side a vital point.
Espanyol 1-1 Barcelona
Espanyol had ended Barcelona’s unbeaten run across all competitions with when both sides met in January in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, and looked set to end their neighbours’ unbeaten streak in the La Liga after Gerard Moreno put nodded his side ahead in the 66th minute. The Catalans who started without their talisman Lionel Messi failed to create many openings due to terrible playing conditions on the waterlogged pitch. It was not an easy game for the Ernesto Valverde’s side as it rained throughout, turning the pitch into a swamp, which prevented the ball from moving smoothly. The home side were on course for another famous victory but with the introduction of Messi, Barcelona got the equalizer in the 83rd minute after Gerard Pique headed home the Argentine’s cross from outside the area.
Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid
Barcelona had already won the league prior to this encounter but needed to keep their unbeaten record intact. Luis Suarez put the Catalans ahead with a lovely volley from a superb pass from Sergi Roberto but Cristiano Ronaldo restored parity for Real Madrid four minutes later when he tapped home a headed Karim Benzema’s pass from close range. The match which started to become a hostile battle saw rough tackles as the game wore on. With half time on the horizon, Roberto was shown a straight red for a violent conduct after throwing a punch at Marcelo. Down to 10 men, Ernesto Valverde’s side took the lead for the second time in the game as Lionel Messi curled a shot in at the near post after being picked out by Suarez in a counterattack. With 70 minutes on the clock, Gareth Bale scored with a superb first-time shot, curling the ball around Marc-Andre ter Stegen from a Marco Asensio assist. In the dying minutes, the Los Blancos threatened to get a winner as they pressed high and even had a legitimate penalty appeal waved off after Jordi Alba kicked Marcelo inside the box, but the home side would hold on to another vital result which puts them in firm control of their invincible quest.