"Luis Enrique isn't the orthodox Barça coach. But he doesn't need to be either. He thinks out-of-the-box and isn't scared of taking bold decisions"
Barcelona's match against Levante was a milestone for both Luis Enrique and the team as it was the 100th game for Barça under his tutelage. With the 0-2 win, Barça are now unbeaten in 28 straight games thus equalling Pep Guardiola's record from the 2010/11 season.
In his 100 games in charge, Enrique has achieved 80 wins, 11 draws and nine losses, leading to five titles. When compared to Pep's record for the first 100 games, Enrique comes out on top. Both managers have their own way of functioning, so it isn't really plausible to compare the two, but the mere fact we are talking about them in the same breath is admirable.
Barça under Guardiola were almost unplayable, especially in the first three seasons. They starved opponents of possession with their trademark passing style. The team controlled the tempo of the game with Xavi running the show. Playing quick one-twos, this Tiki Taka philosophy bamboozled opposition defenders and forced them to make mistakes which Messi and friends utilised up to the maximum. This resulted in a sextuple in 2009/10 and another five trophies in 2011. Many regard this to be the best club team to set foot on a football pitch, such was their dominance.
However, Pep's tactics meant all the players were high up the pitch. Centrebacks were stationed close to the halfway line with the fullbacks ahead of the wingers at times. This resulted in ongoing problems defending counterattacks. Teams with pacy wingers were at an advantage, as the Barça centre backs simply weren't quick enough. Teams quickly took to the 'Park The Bus' tactic to nullify Barça's passing game.
Without any alternative options, the mighty Catalans looked confused at times on the pitch. And then the opposition hit back on the counters, which was a real problem which needed to be solved. Not even the late Tito Vilanova or Gerard Martino could counter this threat. Inter Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid all made use of the same tactics and Barcelona was falling behind -- until Luis Enrique took charge, that is.
As a knight in shining armour, Lucho came to the club in times of crisis. Rumours of Messi departing for foreign shores were doing the rounds. The team had gone trophyless the previous season and rivals Real Madrid had just won the UEFA Champions League.
However, things have not always been easy for the Asturian, who found himself on the brink of being sacked after the terrible display against Real Sociedad in early January 2015 and his subsequent burst-up with Messi. Following that terrible moment, Luis Enrique went on to replace Messi with Suarez in the main striker role and shifted the No.10 to the wings. The MSN trio became far more effective than anybody could have anticipated, then propelled the team to another treble. Due credit must go to the manager who has been able to accommodate all three superstars into a cohesive unit.
Pep liked to heavily involve his core group of players every other match. Players like Messi, Iniesta, Puyol, Xavi would play over 50 games a season for the entire 90 minutes. Injuries and fatigue set in as a result. Enrique, however, prefers rotating his squad and let everybody have their chance. This promotes harmony among the squad and avoid player-manager standoffs. Also, after the four successful years under Pep, players got complacent. Newer players were required to enforce the hunger to succeed, and Enrique did just that.
With Suarez and Rakitic, Barça have in their team players who can shoot from distance when needed. Also, they are taller and stronger than the average Barça player. Such aerial presence was missing in the previous years. They are both workhorses who just don't stop running through the entire match. Corners and free kicks are better defended. Thus, the defensive aspect of the side received a massive boost with these signings.
During Tata Martino's tenure, Messi was criticized for being lazy on the pitch. While the accusation was obviously not true, Messi had indeed gained weight. We know modern footballers need to be well oiled machines. Luis Enrique, a fitness buff himself, is considered a strict disciplinarian like Pep and introduced stricter fitness sessions. His focused approach resulted in the much fitter squad Cules are spoilt with today.
While Pep is known in the footballing circles as the tactical genius, his former teammate is also brilliant himself. His rotations and tinkering with the line-ups might have angered many, but it was one of the reasons the players were fresh and fired up towards the end of his first season in charge. While rivals were having headaches trying to replace one injured player after another, Barça had the full squad at his disposal.
Thus, Barça were able to defeat the champions of England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France with relative ease. Even Real Madrid were humbled 0-4 at the Bernabeu -- a match which will remain in Cules' memories for years to come.
Luis Enrique isn't the orthodox Barça coach. But he doesn't need to be either. He thinks out-of-the-box and isn't scared of taking bold decisions, whether it be playing Sergi Roberto at left-back or Messi in the midfield. The Asturian does what needs to be done to make the team succeed, which is admirable and brave.
On Luis Enrique's 100th game in charge of Barça, we wish him plenty of success ahead and hope to see him lead the team to further glory.