How Luis Enrique Has Emerged from Pep Guardiola Shadow to Become Barcelona Great

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IJune 1, 2015

Luis Enrique calls the tune now at Barcelona.
Luis Enrique calls the tune now at Barcelona.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Luis Enrique has managed something that neither Tito Vilanova nor Tata Martino could and that is to banish the ghost of Pep Guardiola to Barcelona history.

Ever since Pep managed to secure a treble in his first season in management and then go onto win the only sextuple in football history, he has been revered as some kind of football demi-god that all future Barca managers can only aspire too.

Enrique has always been his own man and while he wouldn't have been able to stop any comparison being made, it's unlikely to have sat well on his shoulders.

During the early part of the 2014/15 campaign especially, when things weren't exactly going well for the manager in terms of squad selections being questioned, per Football Espana, no one could've dreamed that Barca would be ending the season so successfully.

Having said that, Barca weren't exactly doing poorly. By December they had only lost two games in the league and drawn one other. A loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League group stages wasn't helpful but neither was the disaster that many portrayed.

The biggest test of Enrique's stewardship would come after an insipid loss to Real Sociedad at the turn of the year.

The loss to Real Sociedad when Lionel Messi was a half time substitute, was the turning point in Barcelona's season.
The loss to Real Sociedad when Lionel Messi was a half time substitute, was the turning point in Barcelona's season.David Ramos/Getty Images
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The knives were out as soon as the result had been confirmed. Enrique had taken the decision to leave Lionel Messi and Neymar on the bench for the first half of the match against David Moyes' side and it backfired spectacularly.

Rotating in every single game prior to the Sociedad debacle, the loss seemed to focus Enrique's mind and any future changes in his starting XI's were few and far between.

An apparent training-ground confrontation with Lionel Messi also had a marked effect. Per an interview with Argentine TV station Mundo Leo, (h/t Ian Rogers of the Independent), Messi himself noted: 

The truth is that we are in very good shape. Luckily, after the Real Sociedad game, when we did not start the year well, everything changed.

Now we are on a different path and everything is coming off for us.

The team is confident and changed its attitude and desire and that is why we are like we are today. 

Whether we choose to believe that it was Messi rather than Enrique who was the instigator of this "new" Barca is a moot point. The fact is things did change.

As Luis Suarez began to find his feet, the front three became almost unplayable. There didn't seem to be a week that went by when any one of the three hadn't scored or assisted.

Enrique has to be given credit for finding a workable system that has managed to accommodate all three with no discernible diluting of their natural game.

8 Fact Football @8Fact_Footballl

January: Luis Enrique set to sacked April: Wins 42nd game in 50th match (Barcelona record) http://t.co/3HX6OyKeQH

The addition of Ivan Rakitic has allowed Barca to play much more vertically in their transitions from front to back, which in turn has placed more emphasis on the front three. Something which they have thrived on.

Indeed, more rapid ball turnover harks back to the days of Guardiola, but whereas Pep's vintage would pass the opposition off of the park when in receipt of the ball, Enrique's variant is much more incisive and direct.

Barca Galaxy @barcagalaxy

Rakitic with family. http://t.co/bTBPUKcpkG

It has brought an edge back to their general play which has been missing for a while now.

Furthermore, Lucho now has the staff available to him to dictate play dependant on the opposition. To change up as necessary.

Perhaps the same has been underutilized in the past. Tata Martino was certainly a safe coach whereas Enrique manages as he played, with bravery. Better to try and fail than not to try at all.

In that respect he shares a similar mindset to Guardiola. Where he stands alone however is in that ability to change.

Pep's teams passed you off the park with astonishing accuracy and never-before-seen numbers. Over 1,000 passes in a game wasn't unheard of.

Enrique's first side might not have come anywhere close to achieving that but he has won more games that his contemporary during his debut campaign. Surely the barometer of just how good a manager is alongside the amount of silverware that is accrued.

Outwitting Pep tactically in the recent Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich was the game where any doubters were finally won over and indeed where the tide finally turned away from Guardiola.

Luis Enrique outwitted Pep Guardiola in their Champions League encounter.
Luis Enrique outwitted Pep Guardiola in their Champions League encounter.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Now it would appear that the talk is how far this team can go.

Arguably, this has to have been one of the best seasons in Barcelona history because it's been played against the backdrop of a FIFA-imposed transfer ban. 

In hindsight it may have worked in Enrique's favour, allowing him to impose a siege mentality of sorts while ensuring he could get the absolute maximum from each player.

Barcelona made seven new signings but not all have had a huge impact on the season.
Barcelona made seven new signings but not all have had a huge impact on the season.David Ramos/Getty Images

Before arguments rage as to the seven signings that the club managed to make during the appeals process, it's worth bearing in mind that two of the seven, Thomas Vermaelen and Douglas, hardly played.

Jeremy Mathieu didn't play as much as surely he had hoped, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was reserved for cup competitions only and Luis Suarez missed the first few months of the campaign.

The only signings to make a true impact throughout the entire season were Ivan Rakitic and Claudio Bravo. Two extra personnel on top of a squad that performed so poorly just a few months previously.

Of course Suarez has done his bit for the team, but he didn't really come into his own until after Christmas as his fitness returned.

Therefore, an acknowledgement is due to Enrique for keeping the team focused and competitive throughout that entire first half of the season.

Luis Enrique has banished the Pep Guardiola era to history.
Luis Enrique has banished the Pep Guardiola era to history.Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

Managing Barcelona is no easy task given the politics that remain within the club, so to steer the team to the brink of football history, again, with a group of players that are six years older than when Guardiola's team peaked...well, it's a truly monumental achievement.

And Luis Enrique should rightly take the acclaim.

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