Where do Real Madrid rank among Europe’s Invincibles?

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Real Madrid

And so it starts again.

After 40 games without defeat, Real Madrid were finally overturned last weekend, beaten by Sevilla in La Liga following a remarkable streak that spanned nine months, 30 teams and five separate competitions. Sergio Ramos’s late own goal did the damage and Real were left to contemplate being taken back to the beginning. Forty games is a long time, after all. But, it turns out, not as long as you might think.

See, while going three-quarters of a calendar year without losing is hardly something to be scoffed at, Madrid’s 40-game return was way, way down on the European, all-competition record – the 62 held by Celtic, 1915-17 edition.

And, stacked up against the longest unbeaten league sequences across Europe, it doesn’t even squeeze into a top 10 featuring sides from Romania, Latvia, Scotland, Italy, Moldova, Greece, Belgium, Estonia and two (yes, TWO) from Armenia. Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be so proud.

Names like Skonto, Union Saint-Gilloise and Sheriff might sound like next year’s Tour de France line-up but, actually, these teams are some of the most remarkable in footballing history.

Skonto, the Latvians who won a frankly ludicrous 14 titles in a row, went 58 games without defeat between 1993 and 1996. In 1994 and 1995, they didn’t lose a single game. Sheriff, from Moldova, recorded 63 unbeaten from 2006 to 2008. Even when their run was ended they still went on to claim the title.

Belgian outfit Union hit 60 in the years between the two World Wars. Such was their feat, a commemorative trophy is still handed out each season to the side with the fewest losses; the Pappaert Cup is named after then-captain Jules Pappaert.

Iconic clubs such as AC Milan and Olympiakos, and of course Celtic, all feature but top spot is reserved for one side who sit head and shoulders above the rest.

The Steaua Bucharest team of 1986-89 was formidable, dominating their domestic competitions with utter ease. Under the leadership of Emeric Jenei and then Anghel Iordanescu, Steaua did not lose in 106 outings. That’s not a typo. One-hundred-and-six matches. Their run featured the bulk of a streak of five consecutive Romanian titles, ended by fierce rivals Dinamo Bucharest in 1990.

In comparison to such a marathon, 40 games looks like a gentle Sunday morning jog.

On Saturday, Zinedine Zidane’s men embark on match number one of their next run. The visit of Malaga might not usually feel like a daunting prospect but, starting again at the beginning, it will be a little trickier than usual… like dry January for Burgundy lovers or a 40-a-day man buying his first e-cigarette.

Madrid have fallen off the wagon, but for how long?

TOP 10 Unbeaten Sides (Domestic Only)

  • Steaua Bucharest (1986-89) 106;
  • Sheriff (2006-08) 63;
  • Celtic (1915-17) 62;
  • Levadia Tallinn (2008-09) 61;
  • Union SG (1933-35) 60;
  • Shirak (1993-95), Pyunik (2002-04) 59;
  • AC Milan (1991-93), Olympiakos (1972-74), Skonto (1993-96) 58

TOP 10 Unbeaten Sides (All competitions)

  • Celtic (1915-17) 62;
  • Union SG (1933-35) 60;
  • Benfica (1963-65) 48;
  • Dinamo Zagreb (2014-15) 45;
  • Juventus (2011-12) 43;
  • Ajax (1995-96), AC Milan (1991-92) 42;
  • Nottingham Forest (1978), Real Madrid (2016-17) 40