Luis Enrique says Pep Guardiola is the best manager in the world at the moment, but insists Wednesday’s Champions League clash between Barcelona and Manchester City will be decided by the players, not the coaches.
Barca have a two-point advantage at the top of Group C going into the game after City could only manage a 3-3 draw at Celtic last month.
Three points at the Camp Nou, therefore, would move the Blaugrana within touching distance of securing top spot with three games to be played, although most of the build-up ahead of Wednesday’s tie has focused on the return of City boss Guardiola to Barca, whom he captained and managed.
“Pep is a good friend and it’s easy to speak positively about him,” Luis Enrique said in his pregame news conference. “I think he’s the best manager at the moment — and that is without seeing any of his training sessions. But I say that for what he transmits.
“I’m not capable of analysing if he’s the best in history because I don’t know how they coached 30 years ago, but he’s one of the managers who’s defined modern football.
“At the end of the day, though, it’s not a game between coaches, it’s the players who will decide the game, even though the coaches will make decisions.”
Like Guardiola, Luis Enrique guided Barca to the Treble in his first season in charge, following that up last term with a La Liga title and Copa del Rey.
Comparisons between Guardiola’s and Luis Enrique’s Barca sides, which feature many of the same players such as Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, are common.
“I like both Barcas,” Luis Enrique said, unwilling to be drawn on talking about the differences between his Barca side and Guardiola’s. “The fans are clever enough to enjoy both, as are the players. It’s good that Barca are still recognised for being an attractive team and for a philosophy of attacking football.”
Luis Enrique’s Barca knocked Manuel Pellegrini’s City out of the Champions League two seasons ago in the round of 16, as they had done the previous year under Gerardo Martino.
However, Luis Enrique does not expect those games to provide a template for Wednesday’s clash.
“City have changed some players and it’s been two seasons since we played them now,” he said. “Pep has a clear influence on his team already. I have seen them play since preseason, with great mechanisms with and without the ball, characteristics you associate with Pep, and they can create problems for us.
“When we watch City we are warned about how difficult the game will be, not just because of the quality and level of their players, but because of the balance and the many different alternatives they have — and that owes a lot to their coach.
“I’m sure they’re going to improve even more, it’s a big motivation for us to fight for first place in the group with them. It’s an attractive game. It’s going to be more complicated than other games, but we’re going to enjoy it.”