Is Enrique’s Barca Better Than Guardiola’s 2009 Treble Winners? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Is Enrique’s Barca Better Than Guardiola’s 2009 Treble Winners?

Posted: Jun 2, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Super Eagles goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper during the 2013-14 French Ligue 1 season for Lille.

Barcelona and Juventus are on the verge of history in Saturday’s Champions League final. After Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona to a Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend – with another stunning solo goal – Barcelona clinched its Liga and Copa double. Juventus beat Lazio in the Coppa Italia 10 days ago to secure its own domestic one-two.

The next European champions, then, will win the treble: for Juventus, it would be the first in its history; Barcelona would become the first to achieve the treble more than once. Another twist: both sides have coaches in their first year in charge at their clubs.

The last time Barcelona managed it was in 2009; this was Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge at Camp Nou, one season before Messi fully evolved into a new position as false nine (his first game in that position was in Barcelona’s 6-2 win at Real Madrid in round 34 of that season), and the team won all six trophies that it could in 2009 – the treble, followed by the Spanish Super Cup, the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup.

When Luis Enrique took over at Barcelona last summer, the similarities with his former team-mate were all too apparent: both had received a football education at Barcelona and started out coaching the club’s B team. The team they took over had not won a trophy the previous year, and both men had time and power to make decisions before arriving (in Guardiola’s case it was to ditch Deco and Ronaldinho).

They also suffered early in their careers in the dug-out: Luis Enrique was a bit unlucky at Roma, where a combination of factors – the upheaval under new ownership, personnel changes, a terrible start and the pressure of the media glare – contributed to a difficult season. Those struggles continued at Barcelona, where as recently as January, there were question-marks over whether he would see out the season in charge.

Guardiola’s team suffered less, even if one point from its opening two games in 2009 showed that the transition to greatness was not a seamless one.

The inevitable question that will come up next week if Barcelona is successful in Berlin is whether Luis Enrique’s 2015 side is better than Pep Guardiola’s 2009 team. “It’s different,” said former player Eric Abidal. “Every year, it’s hard to win titles.”

Gerard Pique had another take on it: “We are a mature team, we discuss sensitive situations together more,” he said. “We have developed our game, we do not have as much possession. We are more direct when it comes to using our forwards. We are also more solid defensively.”

The current Barcelona team has scored 18 more goals than in 2009 (with one game to play) but has also conceded 17 fewer. The goals for column can be attributed almost entirely to Messi, who managed 38 in all competitions in 2009, and is on 58 this season. In isolation, this is some feat – but even more so as Messi has changed his game this season, playing in a deeper role and becoming more instrumental in the rest of the game.

This Barcelona side scores more goals, concedes fewer, and also has a much better win percentage, of 83 per cent compared to 68 per cent.

“This Barca side play in a different way, without over elaborating build-up play, without eliminating their opponent from the contest, but is capable of winning in style,” wrote Alfredo Relano in AS. “In general, everything they do is done in a more dynamic manner and with a degree of unpredictability.”

Luis Enrique has managed all this against the backdrop of instability: Barcelona’s transfer ban; sports director Andoni Zubizaretta being fired; Carles Puyol resigning; and president Bartomeu calling summer elections amid calls of institutional crisis.

His best move was to persuade Xavi Hernandez to stay for one more season – it was Xavi who brokered the peace between coach and Messi in January – but the coach deserves credit for moving Luis Suarez to centre-forward and still keeping Messi vital in a more roving position. Even those start-of-season rotations, which baffled the fans and were said to annoy the players, have left this team looking fresh and hungry when it needs to be.

“Amid it all, quietly, ‘Lucho’ and his assistant Juan Carlos Unzue have added order, tempo, preparation and rehearsal to everything from attacking corners to defensive set plays… from player fitness to morale among substitutes and calm when there were sackings,” wrote Barcelona expert Graham Hunter.

Is this Messi better than in 2009? Is this Gerard Pique, eager to prove a point to his critics, better than in 2009? Is the Luis Suarez-Neymar duo more lethal than Henry-Eto’o in 2009? Whatever you think, Luis Enrique has built another great Barcelona team, a less controlled and more unpredictable side, but a great one all the same. That he has done so in spite of the issues that has dogged the club off the field makes his achievement all the more remarkable.