Why Luis Enrique deserves the credit for Barcelona's historic comeback

He may have been much-maligned in recent weeks, but Luis Enrique was the man responsible for Barcelona's brilliant revival

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Luis Enrique was cursing, but not in anger.

He was cursing with a lot of laughter, still talking with exhilarated amazement about what he had just witnessed on the Camp Nou pitch. The Barcelona manager could scarcely believe that it was Sergi Roberto who scored the winning goal against Paris Saint-Germain given how poor his return has been, and couldn’t help offering an expletive when explaining it.

It marked a big change from the majority of press conferences during the manager's reign, some that have seen pretty tense face-offs with the media.

The entire match fully marked a change in Luis Enrique’s management, mind, and possibly his reputation. He deserves a lot of credit, for almost everything around this tie, maybe more than almost any other match in his reign.

That is a remarkable thing to say about a manager that has won seven of nine possible major trophies so far, and could yet make that 10 of 12 with a second treble. The issue was that it never fully felt he had significant responsibility for any of those pieces of silverware. He has been one of those managers who takes over at a major club and, although capable enough to ensure that they keep winning - something that isn’t easy - it is still the quality of the players that is the key factor. He was not like Pep Guardiola, who so clearly imposed a style on those players, and lifted them to something greater as the whole.

This feels very different for Luis Enrique. He 'owned' this match more than any other, and it is not insignificant that Barcelona pulled off this apparently impossible comeback despite an unusually quiet performance from Leo Messi, who gave Luis Enrique such a huge and heartfelt hug after the game.

The manager was the man mostly responsible, right since the end of the woeful first-leg 4-0 defeat. 

It’s impossible to know exactly why Luis Enrique chose to announce his end-of-season departure when he did, but it doesn’t feel a coincidence that it came two weeks after that collapse at the Parc des Princes.

It could somewhat unfairly be said that the most unifying decision he ever took was to tell the players that he’s leaving, but the reality is it’s been about more than that. It hasn’t just been about how that revelation released the squad. It seems to have released Luis Enrique.

For one, he has cut a completely different, much more relaxed figure. He isn’t so chippy with media, and that seems to have translated into an assurance into what he’s doing as manager too.

He immediately tried something that everyone thought beyond him, after all. He went for an intricate formation change, and one that involved a three-at-the-back and tactical fluency that reflected the Barca philosophy he was supposed to have moved away from.

They have reclaimed a superiority in the middle of the pitch, and Sergio Busquets has instantly returned to his commanding and sprawling best.

That’s not the only transformation. Really, the whole team has been transformed, in a manner reminiscent of January 2015 when Xavi effectively bridged the management and star players together.

There has been more to this transformation, and it has immediately led to the team scoring so many more goals. The 6-1 over PSG - a thrashing of a good side of an astounding scale that has almost been overlooked in the fact it was part of a comeback - brought it to 17 in three games.

That was why Luis Enrique was so bullish about how many Barca could score before the game, but that was something else he got right.

Getting the team back performing to a level close to their maximum is one thing. To overturn a 4-0 deficit against a side like PSG - even if they were so poor on Wednesday - still requires much more. It requires a plan, and deep conviction.

Luis Enrique offered both. He caught the mood superbly in the build-up, and set the tone. His hugely impressive prediction that Barca could score six might have sounded empty to someone not watching how he was saying it, but the belief was clear. He started to convince people in the room Barca could do it, and he evidently convinced his players.

Many were talking afterwards about his team speech, where he fired them with the belief they could complete a ‘remontada’. The players duly went out with that kind of intense application that only comes when teams are tuned up in a specific way, and immediately began to win almost every individual battle.

Luis Enrique still got every individual substitution right. He got this whole game right. That does not necessarily mean it is a pity for Barca that he leaves. They could probably do with a change in the long term, and some of this is undoubtedly due to the unique circumstances of this manager leaving these players at this time.

It was still a uniquely brilliant win for Luis Enrique, one that could greatly enhance his reputation.

He says he wants to take a rest once he leaves Camp Nou. After this, it could be that many Premier League clubs and those further beyond will be cursing that. The man Barcelona no longer wanted could become a wanted man.

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