October 3, 2015. That’s the last time it happened. The last time the Catalans felt the sting of defeat, the pain of loss, the misery of falling short after 90 minutes.
In a match at Sevilla, FC Barcelona dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker on the road in La Liga play with the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, sidelined due to injury. The game was so long ago that the loss has become a faint, distant memory as the season has continued to run its course. Since that time, Barca has rattled off 32 consecutive matches without tasting defeat in one of the most unprecedented runs in sports history.
During its streak, Barcelona has captured 27 wins, battled for five draws and recorded 16 clean sheets. One of those wins and subsequent clean sheets was a 4-0 blowout of rival Real Madrid Nov. 21 in El Clásico—at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium no less (“Barcelona: Scores & Fixtures,” 2016). After its 2-1 win against Las Palmas Saturday, Barcelona extended its commanding lead in La Liga with its 16th win since winter break and is in the driver’s seat to capture the Spanish title this season (Corrigan, 2016).
With the amount of success and seemingly unstoppable force of the squad, Barcelona is making a case to be one of the greatest teams in sports right now, if not in the history of sports. The club is dominating its league, its sport and the rest of the continent, and appears on track to continue its dominance in the near future. After this past weekend’s matchups, Barcelona is up eight points on second-place Atletico Madrid and nine clear of Real Madrid in third in La Liga, and holds 1-20 odds to win the title—compare that to Leicester City’s 5000-1 preseason odds to win the English Premier League and it seems like a major shoe-in in Spain (Sunderland, 2016).
So, is Barcelona the best team on the planet right now?
For an American audience looking at an un-American sport with soccer, there may be a case that the Golden State Warriors—the National Basketball Association’s darling child—are more dominant. The defending NBA champions began the season on a 24-0 run, are currently 49-5 and are on track to surpass the all-time NBA record for wins held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (“Golden State Warriors,” 2016).
The Warriors hold a three game advantage over San Antonio in second and are 10 clear of Oklahoma City in third as of Sunday. They average 115.3 points per game, allow 103.8 and outscore their opponents by a +11.5 margin (“Golden State Warriors,” 2016). Surely, they’re the better team, right?
The way I see it, no. What Barcelona has done is much more impressive on many different levels. For the season, the team is 20-3-2 in La Liga and holds a +47 goal differential over its opponents (Sunderland, 2016). Not only does Barca have the best player in the world in Messi, but it also has a top-three player in Neymar and a surprisingly dominant Luis Suárez, who leads the league with 25 goals this season (Wilson, 2016). Although what Golden State has done with its hands is impressive, what Barcelona has done with its feet is improbable.
And yes, comparing the accomplishments of a soccer team against those of a basketball team is like comparing apples and oranges, but in a game that has much less of a margin of error, the feat seems much more extraordinary. If the Warriors allow a few field goals and go cold from the floor, they can rally and just fire back—something that they are very good at. On the other hand, if Barcelona makes one crucial mistake and allows a goal or does not convert on an open opportunity, the team could leave the pitch in defeat.
Although the debate will never be resolved on the hard court or a pitch and will be left to press room banter and media speculation, if Barca continues its dominance, it may be hard to question the greatness of this season and this team. A big test that may shine light on the issue is on the horizon Tuesday, when the squad will face off against Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League final-16. On the road, Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique predicted another difficult challenge for his team, one that could define the ability of his side.
“At this rhythm, playing every two or three days, we can only keep going. We can be more or less in control, effective or not, but you saw what happened,” Enrique said following Saturday’s win against Las Palmas. “We have things to improve, always do, but I am happy as we have built a lead playing first, and have to see what others do now” (Corrigan, 2016).
But how much can a team that hasn’t lost in 32 matches really improve? I guess we’ll find out Tuesday—and maybe then we’ll know if this truly is the greatest team on the planet.