Luis Enrique Deserves Praise as He Stands on Brink of Barcelona Unbeaten Record

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2016

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique (R) shouts after a fault was committed on Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (down) during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on January 30, 2016.   AFP PHOTO/ PAU BARRENA / AFP / PAU BARRENA        (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)
PAU BARRENA/Getty Images

Luis Enrique is closing in on one milestone and one record.

The Barcelona coach is preparing to take charge of his 100th game at the club, which comes on Sunday against Levante in Valencia.

In that time, he has managed to win five trophies—La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Champions League, the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup—falling just short of the sextuple Pep Guardiola managed in 2009.

However, Lucho is just one game short of equalling the same coach’s 28-game unbeaten streak as Barcelona manager, the longest run in the club’s history.

From September 2010, Pep’s Barcelona side refused to die, eventually slipping up in January 2011 against Real Betis.

Bayern Munich's Spanish head coach Pep Guardiola (L) and Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique hug after the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match FC Bayern Munich vs FC Barcelona in Munich, southern Germany, on May 12, 2015.     AFP PHOTO /
-/Getty Images

Luis Enrique’s side have not been defeated since their trip to the notoriously tricky Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, where Sevilla saw them off while they were still adjusting to the injury absence of Lionel Messi.

That was the first game of October, and now we find ourselves in February, with Barcelona excelling on three fronts.

They have virtually reached the Copa del Rey final, having crushed Valencia 7-0 in the first leg of the semi-finals at Camp Nou in midweek.

Barcelona are three points clear of Atletico at the top of La Liga, four ahead of Real Madrid, and all despite having played one game fewer than their two main rivals.

In the Champions League they are preparing to head to London and face Arsenal, but the odds are in their favour in that tie. And indeed, in any game they have to play.

The Asturian coach’s struggles to control his squad and harness the best of their ability were well documented, but around this time last year he started to get Barcelona firing properly.

He needs to be congratulated for what he has achieved, regardless of whether he manages to equal Pep’s run by avoiding defeat against Levante on Sunday.

Luis Enrique will not give the record itself much traction. It is not as if Barcelona have been playing perfectly since it began.

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique Martinez grimaces before the Spanish league football match Malaga CF vs FC Barcelona at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga on January 23, 2016.   AFP PHOTO / JORGE GUERRERO / AFP / Jorge Guerrero        (Photo credit should read
JORGE GUERRERO/Getty Images

There was the streak of three draws in a row, against Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Deportivo de La Coruna, with Barcelona throwing away leads in each game.

Although the clash with Leverkusen was not important, as Barcelona had already progressed from their Champions League group, Lucho would have preferred to have won one and lost one of the two league clashes. That would have earned his team three points, instead of the two they got from the two draws.

Barcelona also didn’t play particularly well in some of the games they won, notably against Malaga where they were lucky to leave La Rosaleda with three points in the bag.

But for the most part, they have been good value for their results, and the more comfortable Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal become in the side, the better the team will be.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique celebrates during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 match between FC Barcelona and Real CD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Barcelona have won 79 times in Luis Enrique’s reign, scoring 280 goals and letting in 72 in 99 games.

The manager is hard-nosed, taking no nonsense in press conferences from journalists, and has a tense relationship with the media. Sport’s Lluis Mascaro wrote about it, saying:

When things go well - that's to say, their [some managers] teams win - they feel strong. And sometimes they can even seem nice. But when things go wrong - their teams lose - they let loose the monster inside. This happened with Luis Enrique on more than one occasion last season.

But his prickly attitude must be ignored when it comes to evaluating his achievements. Having been so close to leaving in January 2015, to be in such a dominant position a year on is quite something.

Not only has his management led to harmony between three of the game’s biggest stars up front, with no egos and no jealousy in the relationship, he has also found how to make Andres Iniesta work behind them.

That was one of the biggest problems in the first season, with the legendary playmaker finding it tough to eke out his own role, which he now has, slowly dropping deeper and fulfilling some of the same functions that Xavi did.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique gives instructions to his player Andres Iniesta  during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 match between FC Barcelona and Real CD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Ph
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Messi now can drop back into midfield, without fear of clashing with Iniesta and safe in the knowledge that his strike partners will make the right runs and finish lethally, whereas before he would dip back before seeing attacks break down with Pedro and Alexis Sanchez.

Lucho has helped restore Gerard Pique to his former greatness, with the centre-back arguably the world’s best defender at the moment.

Regardless of the unbeaten streak, what speaks most highly of Luis Enrique is that nobody would be surprised if Barcelona managed to win the treble again.

He has made the chance of a ridiculous and unthinkable achievement look like a real possibility.

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