Barcelona can extend record-breaking run, but Real Madrid could prove party poopers

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Barcelona play at Celta Vigo on Tuesday 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 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 Real 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 in their third-last game of the season on May 6. Real 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 La 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 Real’s star player home and away against Juventus; his last-minute penalty sealed Madrid’s progression.

A league season spread over nine months doesn’t quite have the same impact and this season could finish with yet another European Cup for Real Madrid, the team who could also end Barca’s unbeaten run. We might have seen Real 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 didn’t go down well. Nor would Madrid again eclipsing Barca’s excellent league season because of their European exploits.

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