Valverde challenges Barcelona to make history
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde insists the prospect of an undefeated La Liga campaign is driving his champions on towards the season finishing line.
Expectations were kept in check at Camp Nou when Valverde's arrival as Luis Enrique's successor was followed by Neymar's shock departure to Paris Saint-Germain, a frantic transfer market response and a Supercopa de Espana thumping at the hands of Real Madrid.
But Barca's bitter rivals Madrid have been emphatically deposed as champions by Lionel Messi and his colleagues.
Victory at Deportivo La Coruna last month sealed the title with four games to spare and an action-packed Clasico draw on home turf was followed by a 5-1 midweek demolition of Europa League hopefuls Villarreal.
Speaking ahead of Sunday's trip to Levante, Valverde confirmed it is the prospect of being the first La Liga "invincibles" since it was an 18-game competition in the 1930s is fuelling a squad beginning to cast glances towards the 2018 World Cup.
"In principle, this is never a goal of a season [to remain undefeated] but now that we've won the league we need motivations and this is a very, very clear one," the 54-year-old told a news conference.
"You have to remember it's a very, very long time since a team went unbeaten through a league season.
"Our main objectives for the season are already completed, so now let's see if we can make some history."
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 12, 2018
Providing Levante are kept at bay, Valverde's quest for sporting immortality will have to negotiate an unusual twist after a friendly match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Barcelona was confirmed for next Wednesday in South Africa, as part of celebrations to mark Nelson Mandela's centenary.
"It's certainly not a normal situation but it's something that we will do as well as we can," the head coach explained, with a home match to come against Real Sociedad on La Liga's final day.
"Let's hope it causes no problems as far as the players are concerned, but it is an honour to be able to go and play in this game.
"We take this a as training session, a strange one. The idea is to take two teams and not take too many risks.
"It’s a nice thing to do on the back of winning the league championship. We'll try to do this so it is positive and do things as well as we can."