Luis Enrique targets further Barcelona success after a remarkable year

What an absolutely extraordinary week Luis Enrique has just had.

Exactly one year ago, he was about to rise from what seemed to be footballing ruins, and the events of the past few days have been a brilliant way to mark that anniversary.

In turn he has been idiosyncratic, daring and shrewd, but above all, the Barcelona manager has been true to himself.

It’s one of the all-time great comeback stories.

For context, do you remember early January 2015? Barcelona appeared to be mired in crisis.

There was the standup row with Lionel Messi in training on the Friday before losing to Real Sociedad — with the Argentinian and Neymar left on the bench — followed by the sacking of Luis Enrique’s friend and mentor Andoni Zubizarreta a couple of days later.

Four points behind leaders Real Madrid and only in second place ahead of Atletico Madrid because of their goal power, Barca were as close to Valencia in fourth as they were to first.

(One year later, a four-point gap between Real Madrid and league leaders Atletico was enough to see Rafa Benitez sacked at the Bernabeu.)

After losing in San Sebastian, Luis Enrique’s next match was at home to Elche in the Copa del Rey, and fewer than 28,000 fans turned up at the Camp Nou to see it. Albeit that he was a Barcelona hero as a player, it looked like a vote of no confidence for “Lucho.”

“The sacking of ‘Zubi’ weakens my position and makes me sad,” he admitted in his press conference.

The rest is history and represents one of the most astonishing turnarounds in football. Barca played scintillating football and barely misplaced a footstep in winning La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

But now it feels like the continued superlative football, especially from the MSN of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, as well as Barcelona’s five-trophy haul since that traumatic January, might be combining to leave some of Luis Enrique’s excellence in the shade.

So, how about this for his last week of work?

1. Barcelona 4-0 Granada

Messi hit a hat trick two days before he would collect his historic fifth Ballon d’Or, but the man of the match, by a distance, was Sergi Roberto. Perhaps the success story of Barcelona’s season so far, it was already clear just how much faith his manager has in the 23-year-old.

Comfortable in right or left midfield and stellar at right-back in Dani Alves’ absence, Sergi had already put in a stunning performance “overloading” Madrid in midfield and attack during the 4-0 Clasico win.

But this was an exponential step forward.

The single most demanding and specialist position in Barcelona’s version of the 4-3-3 formation is in central midfield. It’s called the “Pivote” and there’s a gatekeeping role.

Possession passing through this position needs to be ultraswift and shrewd, with no hesitation, no mistakes. It’s like speed chess.

If the player in this position loses the ball, misses a tackle or misjudges where to be, then it can leave Barcelona horrifically exposed.

Sergi deputised for Sergio Busquets in the middle of midfield and played brilliantly, looking as if he had trained and performed there for several seasons.

This was an exceptional decision by Barcelona’s manager and, suddenly, a relatively inexperienced footballer, who many would have been relaxed to see leave the club the previous summer, had shown he was the perfect deputy for a player who seemed not to have a proper replacement.

Luis Enrique retained Sergi, promoted him, used him in his preferred position and then kept on testing how many more challenges he could pass. Great vision by the coach.

2. Ballon D’Or Award

You might think him rude, and I don’t think he’ll be distraught if you did.

But Luis Enrique profoundly disapproved of the 2014 ban, which FIFA imposed on Barcelona for transgressing the rules on when and how to sign juvenile footballers. Accordingly, he was true to himself and refused to attend.

The Ballon d’Or itself, without its recent ties to FIFA, is an award of prestige and merit and one which puts winners in esteemed company. To opt not to turn up on a point of principle is, you’d have to say, staying true to personal values — something which the demands of modern football often undermines.

3. Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona

Eleven days after their city rivals harassed and pressed Barcelona into submission in a very aggressive 0-0 draw in La Liga, Luis Enrique saw no danger, only an opportunity in the second leg of this cup tie.

Now I have a vested interest here, having written for ESPN FC back in December 2013: “Why, given the myriad of tactical niceties out there, is this club hidebound to never, ever think about reducing deficiencies and augmenting remaining strengths with a team shape of 4-2-3-1?”

It transpires that Luis Enrique is open to that way of thinking and, against Espanyol, he lined his team up in such a formation. With a whole host of niceties that made the decision stand out:

– Drawing conclusions from Sergi’s performance against Granada, the two organising midfielders in this new tactical scheme didn’t include Busquets who, having played several hundred minutes more than at the same stage the previous season, was rested. That’s vital if he’s to be on form for the trophy-winning part of the season. In his absence, Sergi was paired with Rakiti, and the two functioned like hand in glove. Nice work, coach.

– The formation also facilitated Munir El Haddadi at centre-forward, Messi at No. 10 and Aleix Vidal as a winger. Munir, evidently classy in technical terms but shorn of goal confidence this season, was deployed nearer to his perfect position instead of wide right, which is largely the case when he substitutes for one of the MSN. This, with Suarez suspended, was probably the only formation in which Munir can start in the No. 9 position and the youngster responds by scoring twice. Round peg, round hole. Ring the bell for the coach.

– Messi, who has already been playing as a hybrid between the front line and that which Xavi Hernandez used to occupy, was returned to the position where he orchestrates everything. He plays superbly and sets up Munir’s first with a shimmering pass. “We want a formation which gives Messi, our best player, the most time on the ball, and we might well use this setup again this season,” admits Luis Enrique. Ring the bell twice.

– Vidal, who is technical, clever, quick and adventurous, not only turned in a vibrant performance on the right of the attacking three behind Munir but also saw the opportunity to change position late on and overload Espanyol down Barca’s left. It is a surprise move via which he supplies Munir with the second goal. Following Sunday night’s 6-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, it means that in the four games since the two players became eligible, Luis Enrique has used Arda and Vidal in five different positions, from where they have combined for three goal assists. Just ring the bell again.

Thus, it has been a great week, featuring personal excellence from the coach, as well as three Liga and Copa wins with an aggregate 12-0 scoreline.

But there’s no time for Luis Enrique to pat himself on the back, not that it is a propensity of his anyway. The Copa del Rey quarterfinals bring two more meetings with Athletic Club, starting on Wednesday at San Memes, where Barca lost 4-0 in the Super Cup last August.

And beyond that tie, everything is building to a miniclimax on Jan. 30, when current leaders Atletico play at the Camp Nou. In the same fixture last year, one week after that Real Sociedad defeat, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona sprang to life and never slowed down until everything was won in June.

Culled from soccernet.com

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Barca showing there really IS life after Messi

Luis Enrique may be missing his main man, but since the Argentine has been out the Catalan club’s other two South American forwards have flown the flag in La Liga and Europe

Barca showing there really IS life after Messi

Panic struck for Barcelona when Lionel Messi was struck down through injury in the Liga clash at home to Las Palmas on September 26, but time and again since then Neymar and Luis Suarez have shown that the Blaugrana have plenty to cheer for even without their Argentine attacker.

Messi managed only nine minutes before limping off at Camp Nou and travelling to hospital for tests that later confirmed he would miss somehwere in the region of two months, placing his fitness in doubt for the Clasico clash at Real Madrid on November 21.

And with the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu now just around the corner after the forthcoming international break, it looks like Messi may not be back in time. Recent performances from his two team-mates, however, mean that may be less of a drama than it had first seemed.

Suarez stepped up immediately. The Uruguayan striker scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Las Palmas to get Barca through what was potentially a difficult afternoon, with the image of their finest footballer hurt and injured clearly in the minds of the players in an unpopular early kick-off at Camp Nou.

Since then, Suarez has scored in wins against Bayer Leverkusen, Rayo Vallecano, Getafe and BATE Borisov, as well as netting all three in the 3-1 victory at home to Eibar late last month. Nine goals in eight appearances and he has provided a couple of assists in that time, too. Messi, no doubt, will be pleased.

But Neymar has done even better. The Brazilian forward took time to find his best form after Messi’s injury, perhaps affected by the case accusing him of alleged tax fraud in his move from Santos in 2013. But he has hit eight goals in the Argentine’s absence: his side’s sole strike in the 2-1 loss at Sevilla (Barca’s only defeat in that time), four in the 5-2 win over Rayo, one in the 2-0 success at Getafe and two more in the 3-0 victory at home to BATE last week.

That’s one fewer than Suarez, but it is his overall contribution that is even more impressive. Since Messi’s injury, Neymar has racked up six assists in eight appearances, creating 36 chances for his team-mates and completing 46 dribbles to the Uruguayan’s 12.

“We miss Messi because he is the best,” Neymar said after his double on Wednesday night. “But I’m in a great moment and I’m confident I’ll continue like this.”

Since Messi’s injury, Barca have scored 13 times in La Liga and between them, Neymar and Suarez have been responsible for netting all of those.

In the Champions League, meanwhile, Ivan Rakitic hit a vital double to give the Catalans a hard-fought 2-0 win away to BATE and Sergi Roberto was on hand to net the leveller as Luis Enrique’s side made a late comeback to beat Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou. It was Suarez, though, who popped up with the winner in that one.

In total, Neymar and Suarez have contributed 17 out of 20 goals for Barca since the Argentine hurt his knee.

“We will always miss Messi,” Luis Enrique said recently. “But Neymar and Suarez have shown that we also have other options.”

After his side beat BATE on Wednesday with the two South Americans again taking the lead, the Asturian coach added: “We obviously miss Messi a great deal – but I’ve always said the team had resources.

“There is no mention of ‘Messi-dependence’ because the team is winning and playing well.”

And with the Clasico now just two weeks away, that’s the best news of all for fans of the Catalan club.

Messi is Barcelona’s best ever – but is Ronaldo Madrid’s all-time greatest?

The Portuguese scored against Levante on Saturday to surpass Raul and become the club’s all-time top scorer, but is he the finest footballer to grace the famous white shirt?

Messi is Barcelona’s best ever - but is Ronaldo Madrid’s all-time greatest?

Cristiano Ronaldo is now officially the greatest goalscorer in the history of Real Madrid. The Portuguese forward scored after just half an hour against Levante on Saturday to surpass Raul’s record of 323 goals for los Blancos. But is he the greatest player to ever represent the club?

Over at Barcelona, there is no such debate about Lionel Messi. When Madrid coach Rafa Benitez surprisingly said recently that Ronaldo was not necessarily the best he had coached, eyebrows were raised. Asked the same question about Messi the following day, Barca boss Luis Enrique had no doubt. “I don’t like to compare them,” he said. “But Messi is the best in the world and the best in history. That’s my opinion.”

It is the opinion of many. Yet while the Argentine attacker is often described as the best player to ever grace the game, few have dubbed Ronaldo the finest footballer in history. One notable exception is Jorge Mendes, but he is Cristiano’s agent and personal friend, bigging up his prized asset whenever he has the chance.

Meanwhile, a Google search for “Ronaldo best in history” brings up a 33-minute compilation video of goals and memorable moves at the top of the results page. Featured, however, is not Cristiano but another Ronaldo – the former Barca, Madrid and Brazil striker who retired in 2011.

Messi became Barca’s all-time top scorer back in March 2012 when he surpassed Cesar Rodriguez (253 goals for the Blaugrana between 1939 and 1954). The Argentine attacker now has 418 for the Catalan club in a total of 493 appearances.

Crucially, however, he has won 25 trophies for the Camp Nou club – including seven Liga titles and four Champions Leagues. And just when it appeared he may be losing some of his magic as injuries interrupted him in 2013-14, he returned to lead Barca to an unprecedented second treble the following season.

Ronaldo, however, has won only one Liga title and one Champions League crown in his six seasons so far at the Santiago Bernabeu. In total, the Portuguese has claimed seven titles in that time, but while Messi has led the Catalan club during the most successful spell in their entire history, this is anything but a golden era for Real Madrid.

Cristiano was key as los Blancos claimed la Decima in 2013-14, scoring 17 times to set a new Champions League goals record and ending the calendar year with four trophies as Real also added the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup to the Copa del Rey they had won prior to their European triumph.

However, Ronaldo’s return pales in comparison alongside the trophies claimed by players like Alfredo Di Stefano and Paco Gento in the 1950s and 1960s – an era when Madrid dominated football by winning the first five European Cups.

Di Stefano was considered the greatest player in that era and won 18 trophies in total, including those five European Cups, eight Liga titles, a Copa del Rey and an Intercontinental Cup in a time when there were no Spanish Supercopas to bump up a silverware collection.

Di Stefano died last year at the age of 88 and Madrid paid tribue to their former player, coach and honorary president in a piece on their website entitled ‘Alfredo Di Stefano – the best player of all time’.

“Di Stefano passed away today at 88 years of age in Madrid,” it said. “The Blond Arrow was born on 4 July 1926 in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and is considered one of the best footballers of all time.

“Di Stefano is the only player in history to have won the Super Ballon d’Or. He played 11 seasons with Real Madrid and was a key factor in the club’s world domination.”

Madrid cannot claim “world domination” in their current era, even after last year’s World Club Cup and Champions League crowns – particularly as Barca (and Messi) have won 17 trophies to Real’s seven since Ronaldo moved to the Bernabeu in a €94 million (£80m) move in the summer of 2009.

And even Raul, the club’s all-time top scorer before Saturday, won 16 trophies for Real including three Champions Leagues and six Primera Division titles.

The Spanish striker scored 323 goals in 741 appearances for los Blancos, while Di Stefano netted 308 in 396 games according to the club’s website. Now Ronaldo has overtaken them both – and he has done it in a much more impressive ratio as well with his 324 strikes arriving in only 310 matches.

So he is undoubtedly the greatest goalscorer in Madrid’s history – there is little question about that. But is he, like Messi at Barcelona, the finest footballer to ever represent the club?

Not yet. For all his brilliance and his superb strike rate over the last six years, the Portuguese needs a few more top trophies in a period of domination domestically and in Europe if he to displace Di Stefano (and arguably others, too) and be considered the club’s greatest ever player. And at the age of almost 31, time is running out.

How Lionel Messi’s injury will impact Barcelona, Luis Suarez, team tactics

On the face of it, we’re about to learn something about the ability, character and talent of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona squad while Lionel Messi is absent for at least two months. Who will step up to the plate, who’ll be missing, and what “extra” will this bring out of the manager’s repertoire? These are the types of questions that fans, media and other teams will be posing.

But I think there’s a gaping opportunity to learn more about Messi himself.

Looking back to precisely a year ago and superimposing this “Messi-absent” template on Barcelona’s performances from late September to late October, it’s genuinely surprising to find that on paper only, the impact would have been very low. The Copa del Rey hadn’t started by then, so like now, all that were in play were La Liga and the Champions League.

Had Messi been absent from Sept. 21 to Nov. 22 last year (the span that medics are currently predicting he’ll miss), not a single Barça result in La Liga would have changed. They’d have lost out on nine goals and a handful of assists, but while the goal margins would have shrunk in many instances, not one single result would have been altered. Wins would remain wins; the solitary draw and two defeats would remain untouched, too.

So, in theory, Barcelona would have gone on to win the title, hypothetically — but let’s come back to that in a minute.

How about Europe? It’s remarkably similar. Even if you remove Messi for the final five group games, erasing his goals and assists, which takes that hypothetical injury absence into the second week of December and strips away precisely 70 percent of his Champions League goals last season, only one result changes: The 2-0 away win at Ajax becomes a draw, but every other result remains identical, albeit with narrower win margins.

Barcelona without Messi in the group stage last season still qualify but in second place behind PSG. Whether they go on to win the tournament via a different knockout route is a fun one for those of you who want to debate it, but it’s not my brief.

What I think that really rather strange picture underlines to us is that Messi’s importance, his contribution to the team, goes far beyond goals and assists.

Two clear ideas emerge, I believe. First, Barcelona play differently, think differently and approach challenges differently if they have a fit and fully-firing Messi in their ranks — whether he scores, “makes” a goal or not. I mention again the senior Barcelona player who shared with a friend last Autumn: “we are going to win trophies, not just a trophy, this season because Messi is really enchufado [switched on/in the zone].”

Playing with a problem-solver, someone who scares other teams and who can do things nobody in the current game even dreams of, also changes how robust and how confident the mentality of his teammates will be.

At Barcelona’s level (as with Madrid, Bayern, Atletico, Juventus, Chelsea, PSG, Manchester City and, increasingly, Manchester United) the ultimate difference over a significant space of time playing other top sides is mentality. The talent and fitness can be signed and honed, but winning “mentality” in all its forms is both the most fragile and the hardest to control.

A fit, happy Messi in your team is like a tiger in your tank. How to cope without that when he’s absent? Question 1 for Luis Enrique.

The other significant element of the two main “hangover” factors without Messi, if his goals and assists don’t actually vitally change statistics, is how other teams set up and react to playing Barcelona.

Tracking Messi has always been something of a nightmare; not only will his positional choices lull you into fatal complacency, but so will his tendency to spend a lot of time mooching about the pitch at walking pace as if he’d dropped a contact lens and was looking for it irrespective of the thundering herd around him. Then a split second later, he’s gone, you’re lost and it’s a goal.

Teams will now mark Neymar and Luis Suárez quite differently. They’ll go more tightly on the Uruguayan in the knowledge that his first-time flicks and wall-passes are just that fraction less likely now that he doesn’t have Messi to play off. Likely they’ll attempt to bully Neymar more in the knowledge that free kicks are less likely to be punished with Messi not available and feeling safer that the Brazilian, too, will attempt to dribble more often than he does when Messi is on the pitch. Neymar the sharp and first-touch passer is far less easy to catch and bully than Neymar the dribbler.

Teams who play Barcelona will on the whole be surer that if they pack defensive midfield and the back four (aka “parking the bus”) they are less likely to be picked apart by Barcelona without Messi. I suspect we’ll see more opponents attempting to suck Barcelona in, thwart any attacks and then charge forward on the break. We shall see.

Regarding Neymar, it’s reasonable that the Brazilian’s reaction to Messi’s absence will be more relevant and more educational than that of Suárez, based on the contention that the Uruguayan’s reaction will be much more similar to what you already get at the moment.

When last Barcelona’s beacon of brilliance was absent for this length of time (between November 2013 and January 2014) Neymar was less integrated and significantly less mature than now. He more often than not stepped into the central striker role that Messi vacated, and Neymar patently enjoyed that “team leadership” position. His play flourished but not necessarily his goals: He managed just two in the league while Messi was out (albeit a pair in a 2-1 win over Villarreal) and three against Celtic in a Champions League rout.

Where Luis Enrique requires Neymar to play should, in theory, be quite different now. Suarez is well established as the club’s centre forward, so much so that Messi moved to the right wing last season and was operating in a quasi-Xavi role this season.

Saturday’s 2-1 win over Las Palmas doesn’t provide unequivocal proof of anything, but the initial reactions to added responsibility were at least interesting: two smashing goals from Suarez and a missed penalty from Neymar.

So, what of the third striker?

Last season it became clear that Luis Enrique sees something in Munir that he doesn’t yet in Sandro. The former lingered on in the first team squad long, long after he really needed to return to Barca B and get the game time his deflated confidence screamed out for.

Sandro was returned back to the B team much more quickly, and while that season was awful for the club and coach Jordi Vinyals, who lost his job, the striker has clearly benefited. Quick, confident, aggressive and physical, Sandro looks ready for duty.

It’s pretty clear that Munir has a greater technical array of skills. Without question, Munir is an unpolished gem of a player, but still with the appearance and the actions of a kid. He was first choice to replace Messi after that knee injury made the Argentinian rip off the captain’s armband and throw it to the ground in disgust at being forced to quit Saturday’s match.

Munir played a pivotal (and creatively clever) part in the first goal and then crossed really intelligently for the second. Head up, waiting for the melee to clear, vision engaged: what the Spanish call pausa. In between, however, Munir constantly showed the inhibiting effect of eroded confidence, choosing the right thing to do over and over but doing it badly over and over. Short with passes, mistiming the connection with a teammate’s run; he was talented but timid.

After featuring for Barcelona early in 2014-15, Munir's first team appearances have been few and far between.

As for Sandro? His position and movement for the last big chance of the game spoke of a guy who’s ready now. But his inexplicable ability to shoot just wide from a nailed-on scoring position undermined his case.

You’d imagine that the pace, pressing and maturity of Sandro would win his manager’s favour to complete Barcelona’s “trident” but knowing Luis Enrique’s ability to see the kaleidoscope differently, it’ll probably be Munir.

Andrés Iniesta could, of course, play wide left up front with Suarez and then Neymar across the line of three to his right. Were Xavi still at the club to supplant him in midfield, that’s what might be about to happen. But any further injuries aside, Barcelona still have options, regardless of whether they are allowed by FIFA to register Arda Turan to compensate for Rafinha’s season-long absence.

On that subject, what price might Barcelona now pay for their arrogance in telling FIFA that they may have breached some rules on recruiting junior talent but the rules shouldn’t really have an impact because the club is “elite” at youth development?

That’s the gist of the conversation which ended in this transfer market ban, meaning that the departures of Xavi, Pedro and Martin Montoya couldn’t be compensated for by signing players who can be registered and perform in this brutal first half of Barcelona’s season.

What is Sod’s law? The rule that things will go wrong at precisely the time you can least afford them to. A spate of injuries at a time when Barcelona aren’t allowed to replace with new signings? Sod’s law. Do people like the departed Sandro Rosell and current president Josep Maria Bartomeu feel a bit peremptory now? A bit stupid? I hope so.

Finally, there’s the little genius himself. Doctors reckon that it’s touch and go that he makes it back for the first clasico of the season, in Madrid on Nov. 21. Previous injuries have shown us that Messi will be pawing at his physical recuperators, fitness coaches, doctors and coaching staff to let him back early. Previous injuries have also shown us that that can easily be a false boost for him and the team.

The debilitating effect of Messi playing early, following injury, against PSG and Athletic Club in the spring of 2013 was in fact catastrophic for Barcelona’s chances to perform competitively against Bayern Munich in the semifinal. There in body but absent in spirit, Messi was anonymous in Munich and not picked for the return in that 7-0 aggregate humiliation.

Have these lessons been learned by club and player? We shall see.

Two months without Messi will mean less fun for all of us, apart from Barcelona’s direct opponents. But it’ll cast up dozens of ways in which we’ll learn a great deal about him, his fellow players, his manager and those who’d like to topple Barcelona from the power seat in Spanish and European football.

Culled from Soccernet.com

Lionel Messi Achievement Unrepeatable Says Luis Enrique

After Lionel Messi’s 400th competitive goal, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique believes the record may never be matched.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique believes Lionel Messi’s record of 400 competitive goals may never be matched.

The Argentina international hit the milestone with the second goal in a 2-0 Liga victory over Valencia at the weekend, reaching the quadruple century in his 471st appearance.

“Messi is in top condition,” said Luis Enrique. “400 goals? That’s almost impossible. Unrepeatable I would say.”

Messi, who surpassed Paulino Alcantara as Barca’s all-time leading scorer last season, has broken a host of records this term.

In November, he struck a hat-trick against Sevilla to overhaul Telmo Zarra’s previous best La Liga goals mark of 251. Messi’s La Liga numbers now come in at 278 goals in 309 matches.

During the same month he surpassed Real Madrid great Raul as the UEFA Champions League’s all-time top goalscorer, although he now lies level with great rival Cristiano Ronaldo on 75.

When Messi took home the matchball against Rayo Vallecano in March it was his 32nd hat-trick – passing another of former Athletic Bilbao striker Zarra’s Spanish records.

Barcelona host Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday, leading 3-1 from the away leg.

Luis Enrique: Paris Saint-Germain can beat Barcelona without Ibrahimovic

The Catalans’ coach is anticipating goals galore in the French capital, even though the home side’s top scorer will miss the game through suspension

Luis Enrique: Paris Saint-Germain can beat Barcelona without Ibrahimovic

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique does not believe that the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will hinder Paris Saint-Germain in Wednesday’s Champions League showdown, pointing out that the Ligue 1 titleholders have already proven that they can beat the Catalans without their star striker.

The two sides were drawn in the same group and PSG defeated Barca 3-2 in the French capital only to ultimately miss out on a top seeding for the knockout stage after being beaten 3-1 in their return clash at Camp Nou.

Luis Enrique thus believes it foolish to read too much into the fact that PSG will be without the suspended Ibrahimovic and a number of injured players for their quarter-final, first-leg clash.

“Paris have several major absentees but let’s not forget that they won against us when Zlatan was out, and we won when we met and he played,” the Barca coach told reporters on Tuesday.

“So, one never knows the importance of absentees. We had a good game in September, although we lost – we had many chances.

“But we will definitely need to improve defensively. They have a very good squad, and they showed yet again their qualities by beating Chelsea [in the last 16].”

Indeed, Luis Enrique is expecting goals in both legs, arguing that both sides are stronger in attack than they are at the back.

“I think this tie will be open because our teams are actually quite similar,” the former Spain international added.

“Paris can build from the back, play on the counter… there are many threats from this team.

“This should be an entertaining match. I think we will see a lot of goals, but of course I hope we score more than Paris!

“This won’t be easy of course, as we’ve had many difficulties against them recently.”

Messi not on speaking terms with Luis Enrique as Barcelona players refuse coach’s orders

Despite the Blaugrana’s fine midweek win against Manchester City, the coach has a difficult relationship with his playing staff and star man

Messi not on speaking terms with Luis Enrique as Barcelona players refuse coach's orders
Luis Enrique acknowledges that his future at Camp Nou is far from secure as he continues to endure a difficult relationship with Lionel Messi and the Barcelona squad.

The Asturian only took over as coach of the Blaugrana last summer but his first season on the bench has been dogged by dressing room problems – particularly with star man Messi.

The pair fell out at the start of January, leading to a highly-publicised power struggle, but they then called a truce – agreeing to put their differences aside for the greater good of Barcelona.

However, Goal understands that despite this ceasefire the pair are actually not on speaking terms.

The club has sided with Messi on the issue and while president Josep Maria Bartomeu insists that the coach will remain in his job next season, Luis Enrique himself realises that his position at the club is precarious.

A further reason for this is because the ex-midfielder also has a frosty relationship with many other members of the first-team squad – Luis Enrique’s authoritarian management style is not approved by his players.

Luis Enrique is not the kind of coach to accept suggestions or pointers. Unlike Pep Guardiola, who was hugely popular with Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and other senior squad members, Luis Enrique is more comparable to disciplinarians such as Louis Van Gaal and Fabio Capello in demanding total obedience from his players.

While the players have agreed to co-operate enough to ensure they can fight for major titles this season, there have been occasions when some Barcelona players have been unwilling to take orders from their boss. Indeed the players have found a way of self-managing the team when required.

This is not the first time that Luis Enrique has had a troubled relationship with one or more of his players. While at Roma, he also fell out with club legend Francesco Totti – and this was an important reason why he only lasted one season in the Italian capital.

As we now enter the business end of the 2014-15 campaign, Luis Enrique is concerned his time on the Camp Nou bench will also end prematurely. Barcelona are currently second in La Liga, four points behind Real Madrid.