Three months ago, the knives were out for Luis Enrique. Atletico de Madrid were in town and a defeat to the La Liga Champions would result in the former player’s dismissal, if rumours were to be believed.
However, defeat didn’t come and since that game Los Cules have gone on an incredible run and are now looking at doing the treble and Luis Enrique looks set to equal Pep Guardiola’s 2009 achievement. This week, they face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and after an impressive 3-1 away victory in Paris last week Laurent Blanc’s side face an uphill challenge. But if Blanc was looking at the Barca-Valencia game he may feel that there is some reason to believe that an upset is possible.
Against Valencia, Barca took all three points and Leo Messi scored his 400th goal for Los Azulgranas and, after the disappointing tie against Sevilla, Luis Suarez was also on the scoresheet and on paper it all looks good for Luis Enrique’s men – but looks can be deceiving. Valencia really pushed and tested the Barca defence in the opening 45 minutes and they were unlucky not to take anything from the game. They missed a penalty, hit the post and Claudio Bravo was the saviour on more than one occasion.
When they played Sevilla, Bravo and Gerard Pique were both responsible for the loss of two points, this time out the ‘keeper was determined to make amends but the defence hadn’t learned its lesson and it is here that PSG will believe that they can get something from the game.
The good news for the Parisians is that their top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back from suspension and so too is Marco Verratti. Zlatan is always keen to perform against his former club but PSG have problems at the back. Thiago Silva is an injury doubt and will have a late fitness test to see if he makes the game. Thiago Motta’s chances of making it don’t look good either and with an in-form Messi, Neymar and Suarez, that is of huge concern for PSG and its fans.
That said, the words coming out from PSG are ones of hope and belief. This weekend, they beat Nice 3-1 and after the game the players all stressed that they still believed they could overturn the first leg defeat, but ask an Arsenal fan and they will tell you that belief is not enough and when you face a side like Barca in these circumstances you need a miracle.
Luis Enrique is the one manager in the competition who has no suspension worries and his only concern is Andres Iniesta. The midfielder has a back injury and he may be used at some point. Some reports suggest that Enrique may try and rest some players, especially with the Catalan derby coming up next weekend. The Coach did admit after the Valencia game that his side were running low on energy and that rest would do some his players the world of good, but right now there are no breaks and so his squad just need to knuckle down and get on with it.
PSG may be hopeful of an upset and after the past few defensive performances in La Liga one can understand their reason for slight optimism, but this tie is in the Champions League and it seems that Barca are a different side when they play in Europe.
Luis Enrique may have been on the ropes three months ago but he came out fighting and is now looking good to lift three trophies in May. It hasn’t always been pretty to watch but should he pull it off it would be a remarkable achievement for the former Celta Vigo Coach. But first, they must finish off PSG.