Is Luis Enrique a Better Barcelona Manager Than Pep Guardiola Was?

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistAugust 24, 2016

Barcelona's head coach Luis Enrique reacts next to Bayern's head coach Pep Guardiola, left, during the soccer Champions League second leg semifinal match between Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona at Allianz Arena in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)
Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

It is natural to draw comparisons. Evaluating and judging the quality of anything is easier if there is a marker to use as a measuring stick, and if it’s possible to use numbers as part of the evidence, even better.

And it is the numbers that have provoked discussion in Barcelona, on a topic that has often been brought up since everything clicked for Luis Enrique and his Barcelona side in the second half of his debut season, 2014-15.

Is he a better coach than Pep Guardiola was at Barcelona? If the Blaugrana go to Bilbao on Sunday and beat Athletic Club, Luis Enrique’s team will have reached 100 wins in just 126 official matches, a barely believable statistic.

It took Guardiola longer than that, 139 games. And what’s more, the Asturian’s team have scored more goals en route to their 100th win and conceded fewer. 

Luis Enrique on the mic.
Luis Enrique on the mic.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Lucho’s Barcelona have netted 359 and shipped 91 goals, while Pep’s team scored 339 and let in 108, according to statistics calculated by Diario Sport’s David Salinas. 

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Back in February, there was a similar statistic, when the Asturian reached his 100th game in charge, which was his 80th victory. Pep won 71 in his first century of fixtures.

Luis Enrique also smashed Pep’s best of 28 games unbeaten with Barcelona, ending his streak on 39 matches after tumbling to Real Madrid in April’s Camp Nou Clasico.

In terms of trophies, things are very even. Guardiola won the treble in his first season before ending up winning the Club World Cup and Super Cup double later in the year. He ended up with 14 trophies across four seasons or 3.5 trophies a season. Luis Enrique, meanwhile, has won eight trophies out of 10 competitions entered. 

Not including the Spanish Super Cup won against Sevilla at the start of this season, he has won seven in his first two seasons, also 3.5 a season, more or less.

Statistically, the current Barcelona team appears superior to the side Pep managed between 2008 and 2012, but then there are various other factors to figure; some not as easy to illustrate with statistics. 

Pep Guardiola demanding more from Bayern.
Pep Guardiola demanding more from Bayern.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Pep managed to keep up a good rate of success for four years, which is an impressive feat. Only time will tell if Lucho can manage the same, although his current team looks impressive heading into the new season with improved squad depth and the same will to win. 

In fact, this squad is arguably the best the club have ever had. 

And that is another factor that makes judging Luis Enrique against Guardiola tricky. The current Barcelona is a club that is not afraid to splash the cash to sign star names like Luis Suarez

Bringing in the Uruguayan star was a huge move in the summer of 2014 and not one you can imagine they would have made at the end of the 2000s. 

Pep’s side was worse individually than this current Barcelona team. As good as Pedro and David Villa were either side of Messi, most would agree that Neymar and Suarez are upgrades. 

That hints at Pep’s tactics being a big part of the club’s success—not to say Luis Enrique’s aren’t.

Guardiola's side won the Champions League in 2009.
Guardiola's side won the Champions League in 2009.Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Tiki-taka is a phrase that Guardiola doesn’t like, but it’s the one that most have come to understand as the quick passing and possession style favoured by the coach.

His Barcelona team was one that dominated games and was fascinating in a cerebral, engrossing way.

Some found their style dull because it involved strangling their opponents into submission with passing and moving and passing and moving and passing, and then there’s Messi, squeezing the ball home. 

If Pep’s Barcelona was classical music, Luis Enrique’s is balls-to-the-wall guitar rock. Blockbuster, spectacular, explosive moves but still with that classic flavour from Guardiola’s era woven in here and there. 

Barcelona can play nice football, but they can also counter-attack now, able to score a goal with just a couple of passes to shift it from back to front.

Luis Suarez adds bite to Barcelona's attack.
Luis Suarez adds bite to Barcelona's attack.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

It is also not Luis Enrique’s fault that the board are willing to bring in big names now. The coach has done as much as anyone to promote La Masia, having worked as coach of the B team, giving players like Munir El Haddadi and Sergi Samper their first-team debuts, too.

Pep had some luck in receiving a once-in-a-generation group of talented young players determined to win, although harnessing their raw skills and turning Barcelona into a machine was all down to him.

Guardiola’s philosophy was clearer, but Lucho’s is more flexible. Against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup, Barcelona had less possession than their Andalusian opponents for long stretches and the coach did not care one iota. 

When his team played Arsenal in the Champions League last season, Arsene Wenger noted this. He played Barcelona sides under both Pep and Lucho. Wenger said in a pre-match press conference before the clash in February:

It seems like they have a little less possession than when we played them the first time, because they had a player like Xavi in midfield, who in every single game he had over 100 passes and he allowed them always to have possession. 

At the moment I think they have a team who, at any moment, can score, even when they are dominated they are still very dangerous. That happened in the Champions League final last year against Juventus - when it was 1-1 they were a bit suffering, but in one moment they could take advantage of any weakness to score to 2-1. 

That is where they are dangerous. They are a bit less possession-based, but quicker in the transition.

Until Luis Enrique has been at the club for four years, comparisons can always be argued with. And even then, Pep had to deal with Jose Mourinho being manager at Real Madrid. 

The Portuguese coach was frequently bested by Guardiola, but it was a battle that sapped a lot of his energy, and Madrid then were arguably tougher opponents than they currently are.

Jose Mourinho sapped a lot of Pep's energy.
Jose Mourinho sapped a lot of Pep's energy.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Of course, the coaches met when Barcelona played Bayern Munich in the 2015 Champions League semi-final, but although Luis Enrique's side won over two legs, it doesn't have much relevance to evaluating Pep's qualities as Barcelona boss.

For some, it comes down to a question of appeal. Do you prefer the roll-with-the-punches style of Luis Enrique or the Guardiola chess game?

However, as the coach that truly kick-started the winning era at Barcelona, building on the foundations laid by Johan Cruyff and Co, for most Cules, it will be Guardiola. But Luis Enrique is not far behind.

What’s not in doubt is Barcelona have been lucky to have two of the finest teams in history and the right coaches to handle them.


Rik Sharma is Bleacher Report's lead Barcelona correspondent. All information and quotes obtained first-hand unless specified. Follow him on Twitter here: @riksharma_

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