All Eyes on Barcelona

Luis Enrique became Barcelona’s coach in the summer of 2014. Throughout the rest of 2014, people doubted what he is capable of. He did not start off so well. His side lost against PSG and looked clueless against Real Madrid. The team even ended up losing at home against Celta Vigo. Back then, many people called for patience because every coach deserves a chance.

Why did he deserve a chance? There are certain details that went unnoticed regarding why Luis Enrique’s job was not as easy as it seems:

  • Newcomers: In addition to the existing players in the squad, Luis Enrique’s team was formed of newcomers like Mathieu, Suarez, Bravo, Ter Stegen, Rakitic, Vermaelen, & Douglas. With Rafinha returning from Celta as well, Luis Enrique arrived with a completely vague squad. Any coach in the world knows that a group of new players that have never played together before require patience and development. Unlike coaches who were already fully aware of the squad they have at hand, Luis Enrique was forced to test different players in different positions to come up with the best lineup(s) and this required time in the year 2014. Along with needed rotations, Luis Enrique was still discovering his options by the end of 2014. He was clueless about how Luis Suarez’s return is going to be like and had to wait for him until the end of October. He had two great goalkeepers at hand however the matter of selecting which of them should start was very difficult. He was not completely aware of how much Mathieu should play and if playing him as a fullback would prove to be successful. He had to find a way to force Rafinha into the starting lineup while having midfield legends like Xavi and Iniesta running the show for years.
  • Identity: I have always believed that Barcelona’s coach in recent years has the toughest job in the football world. The reason I say this is because this coach is forced into a style of play that was owned and ran by Xavi Hernandez. Luis Enrique arrived with players like Rakitic. The two have several similarities but their differences are way more significant. Luis Enrique was forced to deal with a club legend who is approaching the end of his top flight career and who symbolizes a certain style of play which is much less direct than any other style of football. In other words, he arrived trying to remind us of a life where the team is not forced to pass 30 times while moving from the midfield line towards the opponent’s goal. And, gladly, he succeeded.

So, what did Luis Enrique accomplish after overcoming these obstacles? And does he deserve the praise?

  • Pique: Some decided to praise Lucho for Pique’s “return”, others (including myself) believed that Pique simply seemed more focused and determined this season. Regardless of who deserves the praise, Luis Enrique definitely played a role in giving Pique enough responsibilities and made sure Gerard was up for them.
  • Defense: Pique happens to be part of one of the best defense lines in Europe. Whether it was Mathieu or Mascherano partnering up with Pique, it didn’t exactly make much of a difference as the defense almost always seemed solid this season. The fullbacks, Dani and Alba have also been a crucial part of Barcelona’s defense. But most importantly, Barcelona’s set-piece game has improved drastically. For once in these past few years, Barcelona fans don’t feel insecure when our players lose the ball.
  • Midfield: Barcelona’s midfield received a lot of criticism for not controlling matches as it usually does. However, the passing game remains the same. The major difference between this midfield and the ones before it (in recent years) is that midfielders in this team look forward twice but only once sideways. In previous years, circulating the ball and basically “looking sideways” was the more common technique.

It is the reason why our attackers have the ball more often and are the ones creating or scoring.

  • Rakitic:
    Rakitic was given complete freedom by Luis Enrique. In other words, he didn’t want Rakitic to “adapt to Barcelona’s system”, he wanted Rakitic to be himself and take the decisions he found suitable. And although Rakitic is shooting less, he is still passing those long balls that have proved to be effective throughout the season. After all, when you have forwards who are simply too talented, you need to make them run and fight for the ball to make use of their pace and talent.
  • Iniesta: Although he is not the best playmaker in the world this season or anything even close, Iniesta’s defensive contribution is a crucial part of Lucho’s system. Some believe that Iniesta is a victim in this. However, if you ask Iniesta himself, and knowing that players don’t actually go home and count their assists, he’ll say that he is happy he is contributing to the success of the team. Every system requires some players to lose their former status or simply gain a new one. As long as it involves the success of the team, these players will never/ shouldn’t mind.
  • Attack: Although there isn’t much to say about attack because it is easy to recognize how talented and intelligent the front three are, the most interesting thing to look at must be Neymar’s confidence. Luis Enrique was definitely an important factor in letting Neymar know that he needs to do what he finds suitable rather than stick to passing or looking for Messi whenever he has the ball.
    As for Luis Suarez, Lucho had complete faith in him and his abilities. They are the reason he insisted on signing him instead of other forwards to begin with. Even when Suarez struggled Lucho insisted on making him regain form. Even though this seems trivial, some actually insisted on benching Suarez. Luis Enrique, however, realized that when May comes, he would rather have an on-form Suarez than an on-form Pedro(who actually contributed perfectly to the team’s success when he was included this season).Most crucial part of all: I still remember yelling out “SHOOT” and “PASSING IS KILLING THIS TEAM” throughout the past year. Even when the 14/15 season started, I was still yelling out these phrases. However, I stopped. The reason behind this is that our forwards have been pushed to realize that what makes them truly special is their ability to kill off an opponent in a matter of seconds. I tweeted about “identity” and how this supposed “philosophy” ended up eating up the team when people like Luis Suarez happen to be passing in front of goal instead of putting the ball into the net. In conclusion, our attack became very direct, very clinical (with some exceptions, as usual), and for once in some time our attack became a force I personally trust to get the job done.

The team went from a defeat against PSG and Real Madrid to a victory against both, alongside Atletico Madrid, Man City, and several others. Luis Enrique’s team was all about progress and change. Players improved, hence the entire team improved.

In the end of April 2014, we stand with a Copa final in hand. We are on top of the league with only ourselves to depend on. And we confidently reached the Champions League semi-final. In terms of achievements, we can still win all three trophies. But will 90/180 minutes truly change my mind about how I see this team? The answer is no.

This team has entertained the fans and defeated rivals. More importantly, this team has regained Barcelona’s status whether in Spanish, or European football. For once in the past few years, the world is anxious to see what Barcelona has in store. After all, isn’t that what the club is about? The club’s history has been focused on entertaining the fans and achieving victories. Lucho’s team has definitely achieved both. We remain excited from match to match. We’re curious to see what our team has in store. We like the feeling that our players are powerful again.

What is better than seeing Gerard Pique back in form and his effect on set-pieces or seeing Bravo and Ter Stegen saving the toughest chances?
What is better than seeing Mascherano tackle someone, send him flying, and finally feel that safety in defense?
What is better than seeing Alba or Dani running their butts off the entire match to either create a chance or catch up to any attacker?
What is better than seeing Busquets do what he does better than anyone in the world?
What is better than seeing what Rakitic has to add or how Iniesta has displayed how effective he can be defensively?
What is better than having Xavi Hernandez to sub on in order to take control of any match?
What is better than looking at our attack and knowing that the entire world is worried and wondering what these three are going to accomplish?
Forget the attack for a second. What is better than knowing that we can score from set-pieces?
What is better than looking at the entire team and seeing it in great physical condition and in place to win all three trophies?

Luis Enrique’s team put Barcelona back on the dance floor. The only questions that remain are: Will Barcelona go out with a big finish? If yes, how big will that finish be?

Barcelona truly is on top of the world right now. After all, that’s where it always should be.


  1. It may have remained unnoticed, but in the last minutes of the PSG match I saw something which for me is symbolic of this team. PSG had a corner on the right of ter Stegen, Luis Suarez was already subbed off.

    Remember, those were the last minutes, PSG was already out, the whole team was tired and yet… Neymar jogged all the way from the other wing to get in the position that Luis Suarez occupies in corners, off the near post. The corner was launched and Neymar headed it away, where if I recall correctly Messi got it and jog-ran with it make PSG scram back to defend.

    This simple action settled it for me.

  2. Thanks for a good and largely unbiased overview of Enrique’s reign so far!

    A minor disagreement – to me it doesn’t seem as if Rakitic was brought in with “complete freedom”, as most of the time he seems to hang around Messi and Alves to support them (both in defense and attack) which as far as I recall wasn’t the position he preferred to play in at Sevilla. I don’t think de doesn’t have any more freedom than Iniesta as to where and how he plays, though MAYBE he’s suited more to the advantages and constraints of his position than Iniesta.

    1. Yeah you’re right. I mentioned Cesc before Rakitic in that part. I said Cesc had less freedom to do what he felt right and had to stick to a “system”.
      Rakitic doesn’t have that *AS MUCH*. That was sort of the point

    2. Yeah you’re right. I mentioned Cesc before Rakitic in that part. I said Cesc had less freedom to do what he felt right and had to stick to a “system”.
      Rakitic doesn’t have that *AS MUCH*. That was sort of the point.
      Then I deleted Cesc’s part because I found it irrelevant here

  3. So surprised to see Messi trying the panenka as Messi is not the type of player to showboat.

    Ok looks like an easy match, REST MESSI!! We should be able to beat Getafe if not then we don’t deserve to be the champion.

    1. Ok 6-0 now. Really no need for Messi to be in the game anymore. Let him rest. After this we have an away match and it’s still 0-0, we don’t know if we’ll have the luxury of resting Messi in the weekend. So use this opportunity to take Messi off. Take a book from NBA. Star players sit out the last quarter when they are comfortable.

    2. In a game like this… he’ll be resting on the pitch, no doubt. It seems, bar injury, that we can stop asking for him to be rested. Ain’t gonna happen.

    1. Almost cute; all three forwards had 1 goal and 1 assist as they reached a 100 goals together.

  4. We are playing at a ridiculous level. Can we rest the whole 11 in the second half? 🙂

  5. What the…I don’t even…

    This Suarez guy seems pretty good at taking the ball into the net at first touch, and at running into space.

    Xavi shooting at goal with same precision which guides every one of his actions. Happy for him, and he definitely seems to be enjoying himself.

    Both teams probably asking themselves how to best spend the remaining fourty-five now…

    1. Isn’t he? Xavi’s smile is all over the place. Messi seems less pleased; probably pondering some minor mistake – or a move that lacked perfection…

  6. I still can’t figure out why none of the front three are not being substituted.

  7. Pedro for Xavi? This means none of MSN is gonna be subbed off. Unless another midfielder comes in for one of them and Pedro moves forward.

    We are unfortunate to only have 1 back up forward. Otherwise 2 of MSN can be rested.

    1. The problem seems to be less only one back-up forward and more the egos of our forwards, who all seem to think being subbed off is some kind of punishment instead of much-needed rest.

  8. Another fierce challenge on Messi, second in a few minutes. Considering what Espanyol got away with last game, it looks like an ominous trend for Messi’s well-being in terms of protection by refereeing…

  9. My silly commentator is going on about Barca not stepping it up, and that this might cost Messi the pichini (Ronaldo scored 5 the other week, he exclaims!). Hopefully, the lack of effort will instead earn Messi a liga…

  10. Another “death-star”-exhibition. The team looks frighteningly excellent at the moment. Nice to see Bartra and Mathieu holding the fort so well. Great!

    1. I really like Bartra, but from watching him today he still got a lot to learn with regard to positioning – caught out of position a bit too easily at times. Top marks for aerial duels, tackling and killer passes on the offense though!

    2. Sure – to my mind it seems he is a bit too eager to prove himself; perhaps might cause him to run around too much.

  11. So, so many encouraging signs, from the way the players seem to fully understand each other now, to another match in which the opponent and what it did was irrelevant. Barça was again playing theoretical football.

    Now people such as Balague are having to perform semantic backflips to manage, and others who have been carping all season about what the team has been doing and how it has been playing, without allowing ANY possibility that something good might be happening, also have to backtrack.

    Through all of the “ugly” football, counters, no midfield etc, the result is a Barça that can score in any number of ways. The days of 30 passes and walking the ball into the net, necessitating a perfect goal, are gone for now. This team has has matches where the only goals have been set piece headers, matches where the attack has bypassed the midfield, as well as matches such as the most recent ones.

    Now we will see against Bayern and Atleti, a match that looks to decide the Liga.

  12. Got to see only the first half but it had me giggling. Really stunning football by nearly everyone on the pitch. I was very happy to see some get rest, and at this point I have to assume that Messi/Enrique/the physios/whoever else is involved know more about what’s best regarding his playing time than I do. Also really glad to see Bartra playing — he has a lot of promise, and it looks pretty certain to me that they intend to keep him. Between Bartra/Matthieu/Pique/Vermalen there will be quite some competition for slots next season, which can only be a good thing. Still one match between now and Bayern, but the gears look to be meshing nicely. What goals they were! One finer than the next.

  13. Crazy BVB – Bayern game. Goes down to penalties after BVB equalize in 75 min. Then every Bayern player(4 players) misses in the penalty shoot out!

  14. Those who want Messi to rest, pay a close attention to how he runs or walks during the games. He is practically resting most of the times on the pitch which is fine for us.
    The way the things are for the moment, everybody is happy, so it shouldnt be ruined.
    Messi is not burned, far from it.

  15. I am not sure how to even describe our front 3. They are playing unreal football. Some of the stuff they were doing today was insane. Even more unbelievable is the fact that they have this understanding in such a short period of time, it hasn’t even been a full season (Suarez missed 3 months!).

    Can you imagine what they are going to be like next year with a full preseason together. Wow. Just wow. Whatever happens this year, even if we don’t win anything, people should be elated because we have a staggering team of football players and a fantastic coach.

    I just hope that no matter what elections bring this summer LE is allowed to continue this project.

    Bring on Bayern Munich next week. As pessimistic as Barca fans tend to be can you imagine being their fans watching us play right now?

    1. What should be really scary for opponents is that there is clearly room for improvement – the situations in which the ball goes in one direction while the run is in another are still quite frequent, i.e. the understanding can and hopefully will improve in the future.

      If you have three players who can do what Suarez did today for the second goal (or against PSG, the Classico, and in other situations) clicking and in form, then you are very close to making the opposition’s efforts to stop you irrelevant. One of them will be in sufficient space to produce magic of that kind no matter what you do.

  16. It must be said, Robben’s injury is huge. I think Jordi would have had a really tough time.

  17. So it seems that both madrid teams will face the same transfer ban.I was sure that we were not the only club who broke the rules.Fair enough.Now on to already relegated Cordoba.Great game.Happy cules:-)

  18. Oh and i know i am biased but the best player last season in Europe already have 21goals and 16assists;-)Not bad eh??

    1. Unimaginable. Who would think of that and how does he know that it’ll reach Suarez? It reminds me of his goal in the manita, whether it was intentional or luck.

  19. i cant believe it …. 7 matches, maybe 8, left to go, and all to play for in the 3 competitions. how exciting it has all set up to be…

  20. OK guys, you’ve had your fun with Suarez, but we kinda miss him on Merseyside…. Can we pleeeeeeeeeease have him back now?

    All joking aside, I’m torn between:
    1) being incredibly happy at seeing the guy do well and hopefully casting his demons behind him, helping Barca to possibly a treble in a season that should have been a transitional one, fitting in beautifully with Ney and Leo up front and scoring some absolute pearls, and
    2) crying myself to sleep as Liverpool have no real strikeforce and lose 1-0 to a struggling Hull side, completely toothless and definitely lacking the scare factor that el pistolero provides. My mighty Reds have suffered a bunch since he left, despite the fee, which now looks like fair money to be honest.

    We miss you Luis, we’ll always love you, but I’m glad you are kickin’ ass and takin’ names in Spain. Well known problems aside, he’s my favourite centre forward of all time and I look forward to watching him smash a few in vs Bayern 🙂

    Visca Barca

  21. Wasn’t that FUN!?!?! anyone know how what the German papers are saying about bayerns chances against barca is or just the media’s mood in general.

  22. A friend just sent this my way.

    “This might be the best second half to a season we have ever had. After 15 league matches in the second half the points tally is –
    2014-15 [Lucho] – 40
    2013-14 [Tata] – 31
    2012-13 [Tito] – 33
    2011-12 [Pep] – 37
    2010-11 [Pep] – 36
    2009-10 [Pep] – 38
    2008-09 [Pep] – 35
    2007-08 [Frank] – 21
    2006-07 [Frank] – 27
    2005-06 [Frank] – 27
    2004-05 [Frank] – 33
    2003-04 [Frank] – 39 (Not bad Frank).”

    Oh, and for those keeping track, Lucho’s win record is now a staggering 85%!!

  23. For last night’s goalfest this is what I read somewhere:
    “Every goal scorer in this game then assisted the next scorer. Messi sets up Suarez who sets up Neymar who sets up Xavi who sets up Suarez who sets up Messi.”
    Bloody amazing, innit??
    Btw, on the night of the curlers… Which one was ur favourite??
    I loved the 2nd Messi one, with no backlift and half a team in front of him!! wow…

    1. Xavi was imperious last night. Just killing it. All those deft touches and flicks.. Some of the best 45 minutes I have ever seen from a football team. Also, Is Badstuber playing or not?? Actually doesn’t matter. In thos form we will swat them aside. Sorry Pep!!

  24. Well according to initial reports Lewandowski has suffered a broken jaw and will be out for the next of the season. His agent said that it looks bad! That added with Robben injured again and Ribery, Alaba out. This is a big advantage for us and we should capitalize!

  25. Having seen now Sergi Roberto occupying the holding midfielder role in a few games I must say I’m pretty impressed from what I’ve seen from him. Good positional play,fast enough to track back and stop counter attacks from the opposition,good tackling,etc. The thing is with Busquets ahead of him and Mascherano also playing that role occasionaly what future can he have in this position for us ?? All the other times he had played as an offensive midfielder I was rather unimpressed and always felt that he lacked the quality for that role in Barca,at least. So what do we do with him ? Play him more in this new role, try to sell him … ? I honestly don’t know …

  26. Wonderful match. Hopefully, we havent peaked yet 🙂

    That Bayern penalties – how can two experienced players like Lahm and Xabi go down in the same way. Incredible.

    1. Yes, converting not a single penalty out of four is incredible.

      I have to say, if Bayern managed to beat us in our current form and with a number of key players missing they’d definitely deserve a lot of praise. I didn’t watch any Bayern games this season – did they rotate a lot, or go the M*drid way of having their key players play all the time (instead of the Barcelona way where this is only true for forwards)?

    1. Tbh, I’m no longer sure it matters what the rule book says in Spain.

      Turning out a decent news day with the Madrid clubs facing the same ban as us ( will they still be able to appeal if it’s on the same grounds as we had turned down? ) , Bayern with major injuries ( did Lewandowski really tweet that he hopes to still make the first leg with a broken upper jaw and nose? ) and SAF saying he thinks Ronaldo is better than Messi when the whole world knows he doesn’t ( good try, Alex, but he’s not coming back!)

      On a more serious note it’s never funny when an older player like Robben breaks down on return from injury and you feel the body is starting to say no ( despite his objectionable nature) . I still remember the young Messi crying on the pitch. Must also be worrying that Thiago also had to be taken off early in that game, again.

    2. Starting from the back,

      Thiago is okay, he got a knock but was subbed just as a precaution. It’s normal, he is just back from a knee injury, they need to be careful with him.

      Robben’s recurrence is bad enough, but there were no options. Sadly Bayern couldn’t afford to let him recover completely. It’s just like Arsenal. 🙁

      SAF was just being friendly and probably confusingly using statistics – Ronaldo had one hat-trick in his six seasons with United, against Newcastle (Messi has one hat-trick of four goals against Arsenal).

      Lewandowski tweeted he’s waiting for the results of further tests and he’s not giving in, while thanking everybody for the support.

      Real Madrid, if banned, will probably be allowed to appeal the decision first to FIFA and then in case of an unfavourable sentence could appeal to TAS, while asking (well, since it’s RM it will be more along the lines of demanding) for a suspended sentence until TAS pronounces on the appeal. Basically the same way Barça were allowed to sign players. However, don’t forget that FIFA’s own commission may overturn the sentence the way they did with Chelsea, TAS can overturn it or shorten the sentence; Also, a lot could depend on the moment when the sentence and appeals are presented.

      You are correct, Jim, the rulebook doesn’t seem to mean anything at the moment, not with the committee capable of reducing or increasing sanctions or cancelling cards. If the ref covers his back in the ref act, the committee can safely ignore anything. Besides, La Hoz covered his back by removing an Espanyol player at the close, so there is way a claim of arbitrary decision, justifiable expulsion or anything else could have a remote chance of success.

  27. What a great time to be a Barça fan! The memories of this era will lift me up if we have a few bad seasons in the future.

    Hey, I’m just wondering, has anybody read Luis Suarez’ autobiography (“Crossing The Line”)? I have, and ever since I get really upset when people disrespectfully call him “bitey” or “vampire”.

    1. I did not know that. Is this true? Still, I think there’s a difference whether a teammate and possible friend says it or somebody who just knows him from the media.

      Anyway, my point is: reading his personal story and his explanation of the incidents has really changed my opinion. I was skeptic and thought he might be a psychopath. Now, assuming his autobiography is not just well made PR, I feel that he is a really considerate, good-natured person who puts way too much pressure on himself.

      It would be optimistic to think that those people who call him “bitey” actually know a bit about his background and just say it in good humor.

    2. What do you reckon an autobiography is going to say? Forgive an old print dog’s skepticism about basically everything, but as you noted in the caveat: “assuming his autobiography is not just well made PR …”

      I don’t doubt that Suarez loves his family, cries when puppies are hurt and likes to watch the sun rise. But there are some undeniable things from his past that, like it or not, will always tarnish his image.

      You don’t get therapy for being a really considerate, good-natured person who puts way too much pressure on yourself. He has issues with impulse control under extreme pressure. He has been playing for Barça for half a season, and been a model citizen. So we take him at that, and move on as best we can.

    3. I feel the same way Kxevin. Just because one loves his family, loves his kids, puppies and what not doesn’t suddenly make a good person. Everybody is a good person to me. Everybody wants to be a good person at least but sometimes they make mistakes. It happens.

      Fabian’s reasoning reminds me the time when a video surfaced about Ronaldo’s son meeting Messi during the Ballon d’Or gala. Many people said that Ronaldo is actually a good family man. Duh. Everybody, at least nearly all parents tries to be a good parent. Just because he is a good Dad doesn’t suddenly make him an angel. Being a good Dad, good person is not a job, it’s what everybody must do. Has to be actually, no other way around.

      What Ronaldo and Suarez does on the pitch at times are abnormal things (the biting, punching, diving, etc.) but off the pitch, they’re normal people like all of us, trying to be the best human we can be. 2 different things, on and off the pitch.

    4. I get you. People believe what they want to believe… and obviously I want to believe that my beloved Barça players are good people whereas the players from Spain’s capital are all thugs.

      Probably the book is PR. It’s not even well written. There must be ghost writers with a better English out there. Nevertheless I found it quite insightful. I never got to read his side of the story about all these incidents. I mean, what are the usual sources of information for the soccer fan community? I find it likely that these boulevard papers are worse liars than Suarez.

      I see his issues with impulse control, but other players discharge their pressure with cynical tackles or plain physical attacks with the clear intention to hurt somebody, knowing that they could end an opponent’s season or career. “Bitey” never did something like that. I think that he gets a disproportionate amount of shaming. Anyway, I didn’t want to spark the debate again.

    5. It’s funny, I took stick on social media for saying that Alba was stupid, but he was, because Messi.

      Messi gets kicked, punched, stepped on, everything short of getting hit by a car. And he gets up and keeps on trying to kill you. Alba knew Lahoz and his tendencies. Players know how an official governs his match. That made his carping and acting out even more stupid.

      Impulse control is a struggle. That control is yet another thing that makes Messi superhuman. Maybe it’s one reason that he seems rather emotionless during matches, because once you let it out …

      But impulse control is crucial. I don’t think anyone is saying that Suarez is a bad person, just that his history is studded with moments of poor impulse control.

  28. Kxevin, Messi’s self control is, like his game, nothing short of inhuman. I have NO idea how he manages not to retaliate to some of the cynical dangerous tackles he suffers. You can’t compare one human to another in that way. I’m pretty mild mannered but if I thought someone had deliberately set out to hurt me in a tackle I’d lose it. (Still do. At our old guys’ football the other night another oldie pushed me just as I was shooting and standing on one ankle. Went berserk at him. )

    Alba is a different case because you would think that a mere decision wouldn’t elicit that response after a yellow and knowing the ref but it obviously got his goat ( maybe previous with this ref?) and in the scheme of things it’s not huge. Some folk just need to let off steam. Maybe stupid but not deserved and anyway, good lesson learned.

    1. Yes, Messi is – as someone else onced pointed out here – really not comparable to any other player in this respect. Maybe Xavi and Iniesta are better examples here – they (especially Iniesta) used to get fouled a lot as well, but always just picked themselves up and continuted their game as if nothing happened. And I doubt one of them ever picked up a yellow for dissent (the World Cup final against the Netherlands and van Bommel notwithstanding).

      Alba needs to learn something from these players, because it’s far from the first time that he got booked for expressing his annoyance. I can relate to his reaction as an amateur player, but there are many professionals who are able to avoid these responses, and he should be able to as well most of the time.

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