Pep Guardiola remains a darling in the heart of many football supporters especially fans of Barcelona given what he achieved at the club – only person who may have a slightly different opinion would be Jose Mourinho and we all know why-.
Between 2008 – 2012 during which Pep managed Barcelona, the club held the world spell-bound with spectacular display, sensational team goals and the tiki-taka style of play was taken to a whole new level. After Pep’s departure, it was clear that any other manager that would replace him is condemned to maintain things as they were as it brought success.
Maintaining the style of play comes with its merits and demerits. Much as the tiki-taka helped Barcelona achieved success, it wasn’t without its own weakness especially at the back. Other managers that took over the reins from Pep struggled in dealing with the problem and it appears Luis Enrique have figured a way around it given how much the team has changed under him.
More emphasis on defence
The attacking prowess of Barcelona can be seen from every department of the team. Virtually every one in the team can initiate attack and it isn’t a surprise to find Pique – a center back – in the opposition defence trying to nick a goal. This cavalier style of play have cost Barca games as oppositions have learned over time to sit back and launch counters which often catches out the center backs and leaves the goalkeeper at the mercy of the striker.
Under Luis Enrique, more attention has been paid to defending. As opposed to Barcelona’s old ways of playing the “who can score the most” game, Luis Enrique wants more balance especially against strong oppositions. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano are now very much restrained in their quest up front as they sit deeper in defence to avoid any chance of being caught out by a well-placed counter attacking pass.
The full-backs also retreat quickly upon the loss of possession and the midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic help to shield the defence and neutralize attack from opposition. This was evident in the Champions League final against Juventus as the Serie A champions were reduced to long range shots due to lack of penetration.
The midfielders are no longer just responsible for passing the ball around, they are also charged with the responsibility of helping the defence. In cases where the full-backs surge forward, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic ensures that their position is not left open as they drift out wide to protect the back-line and cover the center backs.
This not only helps to reduce the number of goals conceded, it also helps Barcelona to sit deep and launch counters of their own with the trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar running at defenders and wreaking havoc all the way.
Enrique must have realized that attack is good but a sturdy defence is equally crucial.
Improved fitness condition
Luis Enrique is a fitness fanatic. He once competed in the Quebrantehuesos – also known as “bone crusher” race – riding 205km through the Pyrenees, completed the Frankfurt Ironman – a 10 hour triathlon – and he took on the Sables marathon in Morocco, 255km through the desert with a 10 kilo rucksack on his back.
Such is his craze for fitness and it is apparent in his looks and every team he manages. Barcelona is all about the flair, creativity and fancy passes but Luis Enrique has added physical steel to the list. The team looks sharper and stronger than it looked in years and a number of the players cut across as one who could go on to play for 120 minutes every game.
The improved physical condition played a crucial role in the club’s success last term where it won the treble. Combining Champions League football and League football has always been an headache for most clubs especially those with a thin squad but Barcelona were able to meander it as a result of the players’ complete fitness and physical strength.
In conclusion, Luis Enrique may not have completely deviated from the Barca’s style of play but strong evidence suggests that he has improved on it and made the team much better. Once the transfer ban is lifted and the club can sign players again, the prospect of achieving even greater success with Luis Enrique looks very bright. Only time will tell if the same can be said about his League rival, Rafael Benitez.