Luis Enrique could make Barcelona history when the holders take on Valencia in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday.
The weekend win at Levante extended Barca’s unbeaten run to 28 matches in all competitions, equalling the record set by Pep Guardiola’s side in the 2010-11 season, meaning the Catalans need simply to avoid defeat against Gary Neville’s struggling outfit to see their coach reach another impressive milestone in his time in charge.
Speaking ahead of the match at Mestalla, Javier Mascherano praised both Luis Enrique and Guardiola for their unerring desire for success, but said the current boss has brought a battling quality to Barca which had been lacking in previous seasons.
“The main similarity between the team under Luis Enrique and under Guardiola is that they compete the same way,” he told the media. “They have the same desire to win and that’s important when you have a team of players that have won so much.
“Luis Enrique is one of the best managers I’ve ever had and he’s done some great things in a year and a half at the club. He’s created an unpredictable team, with a lot of options and which can play a lot of different ways.
“There’s a thin line between winning and losing, but since he arrived, there has been a vast improvement in quality and fighting spirit.”
The tie itself would appear to be over as a contest given Barca’s emphatic 7-0 win in the first leg, which piled more pressure on under-fire boss Neville, and Valencia fared little better at the weekend as they lost 1-0 away to Real Betis.
Neville has remained defiant in the face of calls for him to step down, with Valencia having failed to win in nine league games since he took charge in December, and another humiliation on Wednesday could force the hand of owner Peter Lim.
Alvaro Negredo described the situation as “sad” for everyone concerned but has called for unity as his side aim to restore some pride against the European champions.
“The team are hurting; it is a very difficult situation for everyone. It’s sad, but it’s the reality,” he said on Sunday. “The coach makes his choices and they have to be respected. He also wants us to get out of this situation.
“We have had good games that we haven’t won, and others that have been disappointing – such as the one against Barcelona. At times the team have improved, and at other times we haven’t. We must be united and get out of this slump.”
Valencia could at least be spared the prospect of facing Lionel Messi – who scored a hat-trick in the first leg – as the Argentina star has faced medical checks over the kidney complaint which caused him to miss part of the Club World Cup in December and could be rested for the game.
Sergi Samper, Gerard Gumbau, Wilfrid Kaptoum, Juan Camara and Dani Romera all trained with the senior squad on Monday and could be included in the matchday party, with Rafinha (knee) the only certain absentee.
Valencia welcomed back Paco Alcacer and Enzo Perez to training on Monday, both of whom missed the first leg due to respective ankle and facial injuries, but Shkodran Mustafi is definitely out after his red card at Camp Nou.
The winner of the tie is likely to face Sevilla in the final, with Unai Emery’s men holding a 4-0 first-leg lead over Celta Vigo ahead of their meeting on Thursday.