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.
I can’t see this Barcelona team as at the moment or in the near future as the best team in club soccer history or even Barcelona history. Yes, their unbeaten streak, now at 33, is incredible even when taking into account the quality of the opposing teams. But this Barcelona side, moreso than that from 2010/2011, is beatable. There is an air with the side that you never know what youre going to get. They can play a poor first half, and then come out and score 5 in half an hour. You just never know. A few hours ago, they could have easily come way with nothing from the Emirates if Arsenal finished their early chances. Bayern Munchen have the same lead margin in perhpas a more competitive Bundesliga as well.
Comparing soccer to basketball as sports with the premise of which has the best team is debatable. However, it is far less debatable to decide which sport holds the best player. Soccer, a sport that is played by millions all around the world, definitely holds the better player overall. This is because millions of people from all the world compete to be the best soccer player and therefore the player that is selected as the best player has to surpass far more players to be selected the best player. Basketball, on the other hand, has a couple of millions of players that are mostly located in the western hemisphere. To be the best basketball player, the competition is far less than that of the best soccer player. The ratio between the best soccer player to how many soccer players there is far greater than that of the basketball player to how many basketball players. Now, I know many would say the ratio does not matter, but I think it does because with more players there are less resources, less people who get selected to play professional soccer and even more competition to be all-star player.
Comparing which sport hold the best team is extremely difficult because often teams can be reliant on one or a couple of players to win games. Both the Warriors and Barcelona have very good offenses, but there defenses have to be taken into consideration. The author argues that basketball has multiple opportunities to score while soccer teams have very few, but I think it is important to take into consideration other factors such as the existence of a goalie, the size of a basketball court/soccer field and the rules that impede the teams from scoring. Arguing who has the best team is like arguing which is the best sport; it will alway be based on opinion and the definition of “best.”
As I began reading this article and the topic of the best team in sports came up, I immediately thought about the Golden State Warriors and their historic run to eclipse the win total of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. The comparison between the dominance of Barcelona and the Golden State Warriors in their respective sports is interesting and I’d like to add a few points to what has already been written. Evidently, both teams are led by arguably the best player in their sport, Messi for Barcelona and Stephen Curry for the Warriors. Both players faced obstacles in their ascendance to becoming the star player in their respective sports. It is common knowledge that Messi needed medical treatment for his growth hormone disorder growing up (which was paid for by Barcelona as a condition of his first contract that was famously signed on a napkin). Curry, on the other hand, attended the lesser known Davidson College and his ankle issues were red flags for many professional teams when he entered the draft and early in his NBA career. In spite of the challenges that they faced, both continued to improve and now headline two of the best sports teams on the planet.
I’ll steer away from making the case as to which team is the “greatest team on the planet”, since it is a very complicated question and, as the author noted, is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Instead, I’ll comment on one characteristic, among many, that has set both teams apart from the competition. Both Barcelona and the Golden State Warriors possess an exceptional level of versatility as a result of their respective personnel and coaches. As a result of injuries, some of Barcelona’s players, including Sergio Roberto, have been assigned to different positions and have performed well. Barcelona’s triumvirate (Messi, Neymar, and Suarez) are able to play off the ball and in space with the ability to score from a variety of spots on the pitch. They make adjustments in-game and the fluidity of their movements puts them in advantageous positions. The Golden State Warriors are also blessed with players that can play multiple positions and roles. In particular, Draymond Green is essentially able to play all five positions (at a height of 6′ 7″, he surprisingly started at center on Saturday) and is their Swiss army knife. The Warriors have several players who can make significant contributions on the offensive and defensive ends. In my opinion, the versatility displayed by both teams has been an important component of their success and makes them so interesting to watch.