FC Barcelona is two games away from history. Two games away from Invincibility. Two games away from joining 2003-04 Arsenal, 1991-92 AC Milan and 2011-12 Juventus in an exclusive club of perfection.
The Blaugrana carved up Villarreal on Wednesday to dispose of yet another obstacle, and pull to within two wins or draws of the first unbeaten season in modern La Liga history. Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele got the goals in a 5-1 victory. Dembele, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic played crucial roles in creating them.
Barca, unlike in recent battles with Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna and Real Madrid, was dominant, dispatching La Liga’s sixth-place side and landing a knockout blow before halftime. Even with Luis Suarez, Samuel Umtiti, Marc-André ter Stegen, Jordi Alba and Rakitic all rested, the Catalans were untroubled after Coutinho pounced on a 12th-minute rebound.
Their invincibility has been strangely belittled, in part because of the way in which it has been achieved. But with just two games to go, and with the unbeaten season seemingly inevitable, greatness is becoming unavoidable. Appreciation is slowly, reluctantly, rolling in. Now Barca just needs to finish the job.
Two weekends remain on La Liga’s 2017-18 calendar. Barcelona will play on both of them. It travels to 16th-place Levante this upcoming Sunday, then hosts 11th-place Real Sociedad the following Sunday in the final match of the La Liga season.
Neither opponent has anything to play for, except the role of spoiler. And that might be attractive enough to coax inspired performances out of Barca’s challengers. Regardless, Barcelona will be favored to win both – or at least draw them, which, with the title already wrapped up, is all it needs.
Since Spain’s top-flight moved to a 38-game schedule, no team has ever completed an entire campaign without a loss. Nobody has come this far. Nobody has even gone into the season’s final month still unscathed.
There has never been an undefeated league season in Germany’s Bundesliga, either. But there have been in England and Italy. In 2003-04, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal became the first English side since the 19th century to do it. Wenger’s Invincibles joined Fabio Capello’s 1991-92 Milan, and were later joined by Antonio Conte’s 2011-12 Juve.
Barca, interestingly, will finish with a better record than all those teams. It has drawn nine games. Both Arsenal and Milan drew 12. Juventus drew 15. That comparison makes Ernesto Valverde’s outfit all the more deserving of praise.