Luis Enrique's Barcelona have matched the 34-game unbeaten run of Leo Beenhakker's 1989 Real Madrid side, but which team is better? UEFA.com's Richard Martin does the counting.
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Barcelona's 2-1 win against Sevilla stretched their unbeaten run to 34 games in all competitions, equalling the record set by Leo Beenhakker's Real Madrid side in 1989.
"Luis Enrique deserves it – he is doing a great job. We are talking about a record we set 27 years ago and these records are there to be beaten," said the 73-year-old Beenhakker graciously. "Everyone knows I have Madrid in my heart, but that doesn't mean I don't have huge respect for Barça and Luis Enrique. It's not just about the unbeaten run, but the way he manages all those games. He deserves top marks."
How does this Blaugrana squad compare with Beenhakker's majestic Madrid team? UEFA.com looks closer.
Beenhakker took over at the Bernabéu at an ideal time in 1986, at the end of a season in which Luis Molowny had led his side to a Liga and UEFA Cup double. The Dutchman steered the Merengues to the next level, winning three consecutive titles – the second by an 11-point margin – and collecting the Copa del Rey in his final term. What eluded his team was the European Cup, Madrid eliminated at the semi-final stage in all three of Beenhakker's campaigns. Former player Jorge Valdano coldly remarked: "That generation never set foot at the summit, and for Real Madrid the only summit is the European Cup."
Luis Enrique's side will never have that mark against them, claiming the club's fifth UEFA Champions League crown in Berlin last May – the pick of the five trophies the coach has captured in under two seasons at Camp Nou. And unlike Beenhakker, he inherited a troubled Barcelona outfit when he was appointed in 2014 – they had finished the previous campaign empty-handed under Gerardo Martino.
That Madrid team was built around the 'Quinta del Buitre' (vulture's cohort), comprising Emilio Butragueño, Míchel, Manolo Sanchís and Martín Vázquez, who came through Madrid's academy together. This gave the Blancos an invaluable sense of unity, as Míchel remembered: "We were all from Madrid and the talent was home-grown. We complemented each other perfectly." That native cunning was complemented by a 'Galáctico' – Mexico forward Hugo Sánchez, signed from neighbours Atlético Madrid in 1985.
Of the current Barcelona side, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta and this season's breakthrough player Sergi Roberto all emerged from the La Masia academy. That core has been enhanced by recent imports Luis Suárez, Neymar and Ivan Rakitić, as well as long-standing players Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano. The latter noted: "It's not just the front three, but players like Busquets, Iniesta, Piqué, who have been winning all there is to win for years but still have desire – home-grown players who transmit the team's identity."
Beenhakker's Madrid marked the end of an era dominated by physical sides in Spain, like Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, aiming to enjoy themselves and entertain as well as to lift trophies. Madrid notably beat Sporting Gijón and Real Zaragoza 7-0 and 7-1 in the same week, and one of many great European nights at the Santiago Bernabéu produced a 2-0 victory over Napoli in which defender Chendo nutmegged Diego Maradona ("it was like birds shooting rifles," Valdano later joked). "We had a style, a creativity and we felt free to express it," said Míchel. "We were innovators.”
However, if Beenhakker's Madrid pioneered that short-passing style in Spain, Barcelona have perfected it. "Watching Barça play is like a fiesta," Beenhakker said. "It's spectacular to watch them as a football fan, for their intensity and the quality of their play. It's no guarantee they'll win everything, but they are phenomenal to watch."