September 16. 2017
AKA the Paulinho game. Barcelona went into the half down 1-0 as Gaku put Geta in the lead in the 39th minute. Ernesto Valverde made a curious substitution at the half: Denis Suárez on for Andrés Iniesta. Crazy, right? But Denis scored a wonderful goal just 16 minutes after coming on. After that, with the game tied 1-1. Valverde took off Ivan Rakitić and put in the much-reviled new signing, Paulinho. But seven minutes later, the Brazilian had used his raw power to bully himself past defenders and whack the ball into Vicente Guaita’s net. Barcelona would go on to win 1-2, Paulinho showed he wasn’t just a meme, and Valverde showed a good reading of the match.
Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
November 26. 2017
AKA the ghost goal game. Barcelona were first in the table but Valencia were right behind them, and in their home ground. Still, Barça played a blinder of a first half, and Lionel Messi scored the opening goal. Only... he didn’t. The ball crossed the line, slowly, and obviously, but the ref didn’t give it. Jordi Alba probably could have tapped in the rebound had he not already wheeled away to celebrate. And Valencia would not let the moment pass them by, with Rodrigo Moreno scoring in the 60th minute after a cutback from José Gayá. With the league lead slipping away, Messi clipped in a perfect pass for Alba to put in the net eight minutes from time. A 1-1 draw was enough to keep Barcelona at the top of the table, their blood boiling after the refereeing mistake.
Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona
December 23, 2017
Real Madrid had embarrassed Barça in the Spanish Supercup, and this was a test of how far the team had gone. Barcelona were without Samuel Umtiti, and Thomas Vermaelen was thrust into his first-ever Clásico. He was brilliant in defense, and a tense opening half ended 0-0. But in the second, Barcelona played arguably their best half in the entire season. Zinedine Zidane instructed Mateo Kovacić to man-mark Messi, but all he did was leave Ivan Rakitić acres of space to waltz through midfield and find Sergi Roberto, who expertly found Luis Suárez to score the first. Paulinho should have had the second goal, but Dani Carvajal stopped the goal-bound shot with an obvious handball. A red card later, Messi scored from the ensuing penalty. And with time running out, Messi danced by Marcelo, lost one of his boots, and assisted Aleix Vidal’s goal with his lone remaining boot. Madrid were blitzed, powerless once again at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Barcelona 1-0 Atlético Madrid
March 4, 2018
Atlético were Barcelona’s biggest challengers to the throne, and they had gotten to within touching distance after Barça drew 1-1 with Las Palmas. With a win here, Atlético would blow the title race wide open. It was a tense affair once again, neither side wanting to risk too much. Atléti are always naturally prone to defending, while Barcelona were secure in the knowledge that a 0-0 draw would suit their title ambitions just fine. It probably would have ended 0-0 were it not for a magical free kick from Messi, who fired it past, perhaps, the best keeper in the world, Jan Oblak. Atléti’s coach, Diego Simeone, memorably said after the match that it was really all about one guy - and had Messi worn a red-and-white shirt that day, Atléti would have won.
Sevilla 2-2 Barcelona
March 31, 2018
FC Barcelona’s unbeaten streak was moments away from expiring. Franco Vázquez and Luis Muriel had fired Sevilla into a 2-0 lead over a Messi-less Barcelona. The all-time Spanish record, held by Real Sociedad, stood at 38 games unbeaten. Barça had 36, and were about to fumble the 37th. But the unthinkable happened, first Luis Suárez acrobatically turned in a corner to make it 2-1, and then, just a minute later, Messi scored a brilliant last-gasp outside-the-box goal to finish the match level, and Barça would go onto break the record.