Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen stops a ball during a training session on Tuesday. His team, under Luis Enrique, will play against Bayern Munich tonight, led by coach Pep Guardiola. Picture: REUTERS
Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen stops a ball during a training session on Tuesday. His team, under Luis Enrique, will play against Bayern Munich tonight, led by coach Pep Guardiola. Picture: REUTERS

BARCELONA — Despite the presence of Lionel Messi and 14 World Cup winners, the attention will be on the touchline as much as the pitch on Wednesday when Pep Guardiola leads his Bayern Munich side into the stadium he called home for so long.

Guardiola has been to Barcelona’s Camp Nou hundreds of times, as captain during an 11-year playing career and in winning 14 trophies in a four-year spell as the club’s most successful coach to date.

The last time he was there, for Barca’s Champions League win over Manchester City in February, he sat in his seat, a season ticket in the stands next to his father.

This midweek, though, he will experience the vast concrete bowl of a ground from a different angle, as the opposition coach as Bayern travel to Catalonia in the first-leg of their Champions League semifinal.

His visit could not have come at a better time for former teammate and friend Luis Enrique.

The Barca boss has followed in Guardiola’s footsteps throughout his playing and coaching career. Enrique became captain after Guardiola’s departure and started his managerial career by succeeding his former teammate as Barca B coach when Guardiola took over the senior team in 2008.

That pattern continued when Barca called on a former legend and fan favourite to spark an underachieving squad after a trophyless season by hiring Enrique, just as they had when Guardiola supplanted Frank Rijkaard.

Almost a year later Enrique stands on the brink of matching Guardiola’s biggest achievement by delivering the treble in his first season in charge.

As well as the pursuit of a fifth European Cup, Barca hold a two-point lead in La Liga with three games to play and will host Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey later this month.

The similarities to Guardiola’s first season are striking.

Propelled by a star front three, Barca top scored and conceded least in La Liga, beat Athletic in the Cup final and overcame French and English opposition as well as Bayern on the way to the Champions League.

Yet, Enrique has also been his own man and statistically made an even better start to his Barca coaching career than Guardiola, winning 48 of his first 56 games in charge to Guardiola’s 40.

The forward triumvirate of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have already surpassed the 100-goal record set by the Argentine, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o six years ago with 108 goals between them this season despite Suarez missing the first two months of the season.

Most significantly Enrique has changed Barca’s somewhat dogmatic style under Guardiola for more a varied style that relies less on possession.

The two bedrocks of the midfield in Guardiola’s era of Andres Iniesta and Xavi have only started together four times this season.

Instead of their metronomic ability in possession, Enrique has looked for a more direct approach with physically superior midfield players in Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha looking to feed the front three quickly.

There has also been a dramatic improvement in defending set-pieces, a perennial weakness in recent years, but which has not cost the Blaugrana a single goal since October.

With the political uncertainty of club elections coming at the end of the season, Enrique’s future as coach next year remains up in the air despite his success.

When the semifinal draw was made he described Guardiola as "the best coach in the world, for what he has won, how he has adapted to a new country and because he is my friend".

There would be no better way to ensure his future is at Camp Nou than by taking down his pal, and the best coach Barca have had, over the two legs of this enthralling semifinal over the next week.

AFP

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