Luis Enrique says Lionel Messi has evolved into the “total footballer” as he prepares his side for their Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Real Sociedad.
Barca hold a 1-0 lead from the first leg going into Thursday’s match at Camp Nou, where they are expected to be without the injured Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta.
Iniesta also missed last weekend’s win at Eibar, which saw Messi drop deeper and take on an even more creative role than normal.
“Messi’s evolution is there for everyone to see,” Luis Enrique said in his pregame news conference on Wednesday when asked about the change in Messi’s playing style.
“It’s a process to do with maturing as a person. There have been years when he was the only goalscorer and now he’s evolved into the total footballer, capable of everything in attack and defence.”
Messi will turn 30 later this year but Luis Enrique cooled any concerns that age may take its toll on the Argentina international.
“As he’s so intelligent, he will be able to cover any potential physical weaknesses in the long-term,” he said.
“He’s the prototype of a strong player physically, but he doesn’t rely on that because he knows where the space is, how to play without the ball … and if you add his technical and physical quality to that, you have what we see every day: a unique player.”
Barca are expected to offer Messi a new deal in the coming days to extend his stay at the club until 2022, but it remains less clear if Luis Enrique will follow suit.
The Blaugrana coach continues to ignore questions about whether he will still be in charge next season.
However, he refuted the claim his decision will hinder on the mood inside the dressing room, and he insists the players are more motivated than when he first arrived.
“I see the same desire among a team who want to continue making history,” he said.
“This is my third year and the ambition and the attitude is the same as always, in fact it’s even [better] each season, [the players] are even hungrier.”