Barcelona bidding to beat Madrid's unbeaten run against Rayo
Feb. 29, 2016
MADRID (AP) — Barcelona will attempt to break Real Madrid's unbeaten record against a team it hasn't lost to in 14 years.
Barcelona faces struggling Rayo Vallecano on Thursday as it bids to become the first Spanish team to reach 35 consecutive games without a loss in all competitions, surpassing the record set by its fierce rival in 1988-89.
Rayo Vallecano has lost nine straight to Barcelona, and its last victory over the Catalan club came in 2002. It has been outscored 23-3 in its last five matches against Barcelona.
Barcelona leads the Spanish league and is comfortably on course for a second consecutive title. Rayo is 16th in the 20-team league, only two points above the relegation zone. Barcelona has won 10 straight in the league. Rayo has two wins in 15 games.
Barcelona earlier this year broke its own club record of 29 games without a loss in all competitions, a mark that had been set by Pep Guardiola's squad in 2011. Luis Enrique's team hasn't lost since a 2-1 result at Sevilla in the league's seventh round.
Real Madrid's record of 34 unbeaten games was set under coach Leo Beenhakker and with players such as Emilio Butragueno and Hugo Sanchez. The run ended in a 2-0 loss at Celta Vigo in 1989.
"The record doesn't mean anything to me right now," said Luis Enrique, whose team has won 28 games and drawn six. "It will only mean something if this streak helps us win titles at the end of the season."
Rayo, which has drawn its last three league games 2-2, has only beaten Barcelona four times, including twice at home in 2002. Neymar scored four goals when the Catalan club routed Rayo 5-2 at the Camp Nou earlier this season.
Here are other things to watch in the Spanish league this week:
Atletico Madrid hosts Real Sociedad on Tuesday looking to keep pressure on Barcelona atop the standings.
Atletico can provisionally cut Barcelona's lead to five points with another win following Saturday's impressive 1-0 victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
"We have to keep fighting game after game," Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez said. "Then at the end we will see whether we still have any chance. We are not giving up just yet."
Atletico's defense hasn't conceded a goal in four straight matches, including a scoreless draw at PSV Eindoven in the Champions League.
The offense has scored only two goals in the last four games, though.
"We have to keep working to improve in that area," coach Diego Simeone said.
PLAYING FOR PRIDE?
Real Madrid has already given up on the league title after losing at home to Atletico Madrid and dropping 12 points behind leader Barcelona with 12 games to play.
Players and coach Zinedine Zidane admit that the focus now will be on the Champions League, with the club on the verge of as spot in the quarterfinals after a 2-0 win at Roma.
However, Madrid is in danger of losing third place in the league, which would secure an automatic spot in next year's European tournament. It is only two points ahead of fourth-place Villarreal going into its game at last-place Levante on Wednesday.
"Before the Champions League we have a game on Wednesday and we have to prepare for that game in order to play at our top level and win," Zidane said. "Our duties and aims are for the next game."
Villarreal's impressive unbeaten run in the Spanish league has reached 13 games and left the team in position to fight for third place.
Finishing third would give Villarreal an automatic spot in the Champions League, avoiding an extra qualifying round.
"To finish third we would need to maintain this extraordinary level and hope that Atletico and Real Madrid play below expectations," Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia said. "Each step we take is to secure this fourth place, which would be a great achievement."
Villarreal has a comfortable 11-point lead over fifth-place Celta, the team it plays on Wednesday in Vigo.
The title fight is virtually over but there is still plenty of action near the bottom of the table.
Five teams are within four points of relegation zone, and several matchups between threatened clubs take place this week.
Second-to-last-place Granada hosts 18th-place Sporting Gijon on Thursday; 15th-place Getafe plays at 17th-place Las Palmas on Tuesday; and 13th-place Real Betis faces 14th-place Espanyol in Barcelona on Thursday.
The bottom three at the end of the season are relegated.
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