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Champions League Final: Luis Enrique out to emulate, and surpass, Guardiola

Pep Guardiola ended his first season in charge of Barcelona by beating Manchester United in the 2009 UEFA Champions League final.

That victory in Rome earned Guardiola immortality at Camp Nou. He had done what had appeared impossible: turning a team who finished third and 18 points behind Real Madrid in La Liga in 2008 into treble winners.

On Saturday, current Barca boss Luis Enrique can do the same. He has the chance to emulate his great friend by beating Juventus in Berlin.

But, should he lead Barca to the holy grail for the second time in six years, Luis Enrique will not only have equalled Guardiola’s achievement. He will have surpassed it.

Okay, last summer Barca were not quite the mess they were at the end of the Frank Rijkaard era. Luis Enrique certainly did not inherit a squad that had finished 18 points off the pace in the league, that’s for sure.

But just five months ago, crisis was threatening to engulf the 45-year-old.

His apparently frosty relationship with Lionel Messi reached its nadir when he opted to leave Barca’s talisman on the bench for the club’s first fixture back after the mid-season break.

Barca were beaten 1-0 at Real Sociedad. At that point, Real Madrid were in control of the Liga title race, Manchester City were lying in wait in the Champions League, and reigning Spanish champions Atletico were about to visit Camp Nou.

Since that defeat at Sociedad, Barca have won 30 of their 34 games in all competitions. They have scored 104 times, conceding just 23. Messi – seemingly revitalised by his switch to the right of Barca’s attack – has contributed 35 goals.

Since that defeat at Sociedad, Barca have won La Liga. They have won the Copa del Rey. They have outclassed City, Paris Saint-Germain and Guardiola’s Bayern Munich on their way to Berlin. 

Since that defeat at Sociedad, Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored 80 goals between them – double the comparatively meagre total of 40 they managed before Christmas.

Luis Enrique has found his voice and authority as a coach.

He has found a way of harnessing the stellar talent oozing from Barca’s dressing room, of turning them into a winning machine that plays a brand of football many believe to be even more effective than Guardiola’s all-conquering tiki-taka.

Barca are quick, they are dynamic, they are direct. But they also still have the artistry of Messi and Andres Iniesta. They appear close to unbeatable at present.

Real and Atletico Madrid could not match them domestically this season. City, PSG and Bayern were unable to cope in Europe.

And if Juventus are put to the sword in Berlin, Luis Enrique will have bettered Pep Guardiola’s first season at Camp Nou. 

Five months is a long time in football. And that cold January evening in San Sebastian feels like a lifetime ago.

Thu 4 Jun, 2015
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