Twenty-two games without defeat. 18 wins, four draws, 60 goals scored and just 11 conceded. Not a bad start to life as Barca coach for Ernesto Valverde.
It’s almost comical to think that he wasn’t the coach of choice among supporters when rumours of who the new appointment would be were doing the rounds.
The locals were almost universally agreed that Jorge Sampaoli’s brand of dynamic football would be just the ticket, but, evidently, the former Sevilla man didn’t appeal to the board.
Plumping for the ‘safe choice,’ as many saw it, their decision has turned out to be one of their best. Valverde now surpasses Pep Guardiola to hold the since the start of a season record of most games unbeaten.
As we’ve seen with Manchester City, Pep likes a brand of football that might best be described as ‘swashbuckling,’ and it’s true that his 2009/10 side, who previously held the record, were a joy to watch.
But there’s more than one way to achieve your aims as Valverde has proved time and again.
This Barca know how to dig in and grind out a result. Defensively solid, they’ve a great foundation from which to build their attacks, and an approximate three-goals-a-game ratio is equal to any output from the Guardiola era.
Whether playing a classic 4-3-3, a more traditional 4-4-2 or an offensive 4-2-3-1, the players are entirely comfortable in their work. Safe choice or not, he’s getting the job done. Every single time.
Valverde has won the respect of the dressing room with courteous treatment of his staff, the highest level of tactical nous and the discipline to rule with an iron fist as and when necessary. Dropping Lionel Messi to the bench, a hitherto impossible job, has also been accepted with good grace by Barca’s Argentinian talisman.
Why? Because Messi understands that the Basque clearly knows what he’s doing. The league is already Barcelona’s to lose and the likelihood of that happening is minuscule.
One game away from another Copa del Rey final — a fifth in succession, which has never been done before in the entire history of the competition — and his side will be favourites for the double.
Which would leave the Champions League to be conquered for an unprecedented ‘treble-treble.’
Whether that is ultimately achieved or not, nothing should take the shine off of this particular achievement.
There are 16 games left in the league, and almost all of the harder away games, with respect, have already been played. Could we be looking at the new invincibles?