Luis Enrique can equal a record set by Pep Guardiola when he takes his Barcelona side to face Levante in La Liga on Sunday, in what will be his 100th game in charge.
The Liga leaders stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to 27 matches when they thrashed Valencia 7-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday, equalling a tally set by Rinus Michel’s side in 1973-74.
Guardiola’s class avoided defeat for 28 consecutive games between September 2010 and January 2011 before they were eventually beaten by Real Betis, meaning Luis Enrique can draw level with his former team-mate this weekend.
Barca’s formidable form since they lost to Sevilla on October 3 last year suggests Levante, who sit bottom of La Liga, will find it supremely tough to inflict only a 10th defeat in 100 games for Luis Enrique – especially since they have only won one of the last 21 league meetings.
The emphatic win over Valencia this week was Barca’s ninth in a row in all competitions and Aleix Vidal has warned the champions’ rivals that they may only just be hitting top form.
“It’s true that, right now, it seems like everything that happened was easy, but I think that was one of the best first halves of the season, if not the best,” he said after the win.
“I’ve enjoyed some good moments but I enjoy football in this team more than I have anywhere else.”
Levante are four points off safety after 22 matches but their performances in 2016 have rekindled hopes that Rubi can keep them up.
Narrow away defeats to Atletico Madrid and Celta Vigo have been countered with vital home wins over fellow strugglers Rayo Vallecano and Las Palmas – the first time they have won two consecutive home games all season.
Rubi, who was part of Barca’s coaching set-up under the late Tito Vilanova in 2013-14, was keen to pay tribute to his opposite number ahead of the match but remains confident his side can spring a surprise.
“He deserves a lot of respect and, when you’ve had the results they have, it means you have a very good coach,” he told the media.
“Barcelona are in top form but our enthusiasm will be very high.”
Barca rested Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves and Claudio Bravo for the win over Valencia, but all three are set to return to the squad for Sunday’s clash at the Ciutat de Valencia.
On-loan Giuseppe Rossi scored his first goal in Levante’s 3-1 loss at Sevilla last time out and Rubi will hope to see an impact from his other four new signings Lucas Orban, Joan Verdu, Carl Medjani and Mauricio Cuero. Ruben Garcia misses out, however, as he is short of fitness.
Key Opta Stats:
– Luis Enrique’s side have only lost in two of their last 19 away games (W14 D3) and have only failed to score in one of them (0-0 vs Espanyol).
– Luis Suarez (19), Neymar (16) and Lionel Messi (12) have scored 47 league goals collectively this season; only five teams in Europe’s top five leagues have scored more goals this term.
– Messi is currently on his best goalscoring run than at any stage of the season, having scored in four consecutive games (six in total).
– Without Suarez’s goals, Barcelona would be fifth in the league with 40 points, 11 fewer than the points they have gained.
– Jose Luis Morales has been involved in five of his side’s last seven league goals (three goals, two assists).
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