Within hours of beating Deportivo La Coruna to win La Liga at the end of April, Barcelona’s players were back in the city celebrating their seventh league title in 10 years at a nightclub on the beachfront.
The following day, there were more beers as the players paraded the two trophies they have won this season — La Liga and the Copa del Rey — on an open-top bus tour through the city centre’s streets. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez indulged in some play-fighting, Samuel Umtiti got in trouble for drenching a journalist in alcohol and the parade came to an end with a food delivery. The players were then escorted off on a separate bus, presumably to continue the party elsewhere.
That was the Monday and on the Thursday, they had an official dinner — a more cordial affair — with their families, board members and other club staff at a hotel close to Camp Nou. On the Sunday, they somehow left that week of excess behind to draw with Real Madrid, putting in a huge amount of effort after being reduced to 10 men before halftime.
It wouldn’t have been completely surprising, then, if on the following Wednesday they collapsed against Villarreal, if all the effort on and off the pitch caught up with them. But they didn’t. They won 5-1 and remained on track to end the La Liga season unbeaten.
That, ultimately, is why they’re still doing what they’re doing despite wrapping up the league title with four games to spare.
Coach Ernesto Valverde says it would be “historic” if they were to achieve it, and he’s not wrong. If they avoid defeat against Levante on Sunday, they will be just one game away from becoming the first-ever side to navigate a 38-game season in Spain’s top-flight without losing a game.
There have been unbeaten campaigns before but not since the 1930s, when a championship consisted of just 18 games. Both Real Madrid (1932) and Athletic Bilbao (1930) managed it but since then? Nothing. The Madrid team that won five consecutive European cups in the late 1950s? Nope. Madrid’s “La Quinta del Buitre” that won five back-to-back league titles in the 1980s? No. Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team? Nope. Pep Guardiola’s treble winners? No. You get the point.
Remaining unbeaten would further enhance Barca’s recent domestic dominance. An official poster is already shining outside Camp Nou boasting of the “decade of Barca” and ending the season as “The Invincibles” should extend their legacy for future generations even if, right now, they’re still feeling the pain of their Champions League exit in Rome.
So, that’s why Barca will not relax against Levante and will resist the urge to “be on the beach” even if many players will have this summer’s World Cup on their minds. Valverde says there are ridiculous levels of “competitive spirit” within the squad and an unbeaten season, something they’ve been hesitant to admit craving so far, is now something they very much desire.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.