With their rich history and insanely full trophy case, it may raise a few eyebrows to claim that the current version of FC Barcelona is the greatest of all-time. After all, when you’ve won La Liga 23 times and the Champions League five times, you’re bound to own several of history’s best teams. So while I usually avoid making hyperbolic statements like this when there is so much season left, I think we can say, definitively, that we are at least watching one of the best Barcelona teams ever.
Luis Enrique’s men just set the Barcelona record for longest unbeaten streak. 118 years of Barca history has never seen 29 straight matches undefeated. Would you like some more context for this unbelievable achievement? Well, Barca’s last loss was October 3rd at Sevilla — a game that Lionel Messi did not play in. In fact, besides that hiccup, they hardly missed a beat with their best player missing significant time due to injury. Neymar and Luis Suarez have had no problem picking up the slack, to the tune of a combined 36 goals and 15 assists in La Liga.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 10, 2016
Despite Enrique brushing off the accomplishment as “just numbers,” an unbeaten streak like this is an excellent indicator of an all-time great side. Take a look at the list above.
The 2005-06 Rijkaard team was led by Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho (Lionel Messi wasn’t Lionel Messi yet, plus he suffered a season-ending injury in March) to an easy La Liga title and a Champions League victory over Arsenal in the final. Although they were upset in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, this is one of only five Barca teams to win Europe.
For the 1973-74 campaign, legendary Total Football-innovating manager Rinus Michels guided Barca to their first domestic league championship in 14 years, while ripping off 27 matches without a loss. This was Dutch great Johan Cruyff’s first year in a Barcelona uniform as well. Real Madrid was in the midst of a down year, so their rivals decided to embarrass them 5-0 at the Bernabeu. While this team didn’t win the Copa del Rey or European Cup, it’s still a memorable campaign because of the combined genius of Michels and Cruyff.
Pep Guardiola’s Barca stint included some utterly spectacular teams, including the Treble-winning 2008-09 season. However, the 2010-11 team that went undefeated for 28 straight came thisclose to another Treble. Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta were at the top of their games, bending world football to their will. While they only won the league by four points over Real, Pep’s team only lost two games all season in La Liga. They swept through the Champions League, dispatching Manchester United in the final. Their only stumble was in the 2011 Copa del Rey final vs. Real. If Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t score in extra time, we might be talking about this team as the best ever.
Historic undefeated streaks like this tend to be the rainbow that ends in gold (trophies) at the end of the season. In the NBA, the three longest winning streaks belong to the 1971-72 Lakers, the 2015 Warriors, and the 2013 Heat. All three won championships that season. It’s not a necessity for an all-time great team to have a streak like this, but it sure helps.
Of course, this 2015-16 Barcelona team hasn’t won anything yet. While I highly doubt that their season ends trophy-less, winning the Treble is a whole different achievement. Only eight European teams have ever done it — including two Barcelona teams, that unbelievable 2008-09 side and last year’s version. This means that for this to be the best ever Barcelona side, nothing less than the Treble will do. So, you know, no big deal.
And yet, a triumph so difficult seems fully within this team’s grasp. The 29-game (and counting) streak could come to an end shortly. Their next five matches feature two clubs (Sevilla and Celta Vigo) that have beaten them already this season, plus Arsenal in the Champions League knockout round. Even if they lose soon though, this team has already achieved something never before done in Barcelona’s illustrious history. After it seemed like last year’s Treble-winning side would be impossible to top, this bunch is well on their way to doing so.