Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Barca prediction propels boss Luis Enrique from zero to hero

by Miguel Delaney

So pilloried for so long, so questioned for so long, Luis Enrique now looks all-knowing just as his side look all-conquering.

The Barcelona manager, after all, predicted this. And not just that they would go through. He predicted the number of goals his side would get against Paris Saint-Germain at the Nou Camp, and said it with the conviction of someone who truly believed.

His team also truly played with that belief, to make his prediction - or, rather his proclamation - come off.

"If a team can score four times against us, we can score six times against them," Luis Enrique had said on the eve of the game.

He surely couldn't have predicted how they would do it though. The sensational fact that they finally overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit by scoring three goals in the last five minutes with one of those in the last 30 seconds - having also conceded what looked the killer away goal - is actually just one of many incredible elements to this game.

Then there was the curiosity that, to achieve this greatest ever European Cup comeback, one of the greatest ever players was actually very quiet. Barca managed to do this without having Leo Messi anywhere near his best, although he was so obviously crowded out with the one thing that PSG did well in this game, and he did absolutely smash home a pressure penalty at a key moment of the game.

The trueness of that kick, the way it seemed an example of such distilled focus, also symbolised the Barcelona performance.

Right from the start, they had that rare and heightened intensity of application of a team that is truly immersed; that has that severe sense of mission that means there is no hesitation to anything they do.

That was one great contrast between the teams, and one big reason for the final result. While PSG were so shambolic and so obviously nervous, Barca were so sharp, and ensured their fluid new formation - another Luis Enrique masterstroke - was just too much for the French champions' desperately deep defence.

The Catalans were playing with a fire as well as that fluency and, for all the debate about how Luis Enrique man-manages this team, he seemed to completely catch the right mood.

He set the right tone, both in his pre-game press conference and in the dressing room beforehand.

Match-winner Sergi Roberto appropriately summed up their attitude, in describing what he did for that decisive goal.

"I threw myself at it with everything," he said.

It was a match that had everything, including some spectacular moments, not least Neymar's exquisite tide-turning free-kick.

"I cannot believe it," midfielder Ivan Rakitic said with breathless exhilaration, reflecting on Wednesday night's game.

"It was really impossible… it is crazy and unbelievable."

You could say no-one could have predicted it, but someone did. It was just one of many things that Luis Enrique got right, on a very special night.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph