Barcelona’s coach Luis Enrique looks on during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona on February 14, 2017 at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique floundered in the firing line on Wednesday after what he called a “disastrous” 4-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain left the Spanish champions on the brink of their earliest Champions League exit in a decade.
Enrique confronted a television reporter working for Catalan station TV3 after the match, whilst his tactics were criticised by Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets.
Barcelona sports daily Sport’s front cover said “this is not Barca,” whilst Madrid-based AS’s headline ran “total disaster.”
A former Real Madrid foe came back to haunt Barca as Angel di Maria scored twice, whilst further goals from Julian Draxler and Edison Cavani handed PSG the glorious European night they have craved since a takeover from Qatar Sports Investments six years ago.
The joint heaviest defeat in Enrique’s three seasons in charge means they face missing out on the quarter-finals for the first time since losing on away goals to Liverpool in the last 16 in 2006/07.
“It was a disastrous night for us in which we were clearly inferior,” Enrique acknowledged after the game.
“I accept responsiblity, but I would also like the same respect and personal treatment in the interviews when we win,” Enrique said in a fiery interview with TV3.
Enrique’s future at the Camp Nou beyond the current campaign was already in doubt as his contract expires at the end of the season. Barcelona also trail Real Madrid in the race for the Spanish title.
And Busquets’s reaction in praising Enrique’s counterpart Unai Emery for the tactical set up that caught the Catalans cold was telling.
“It wasn’t an attitude problem, but a football one. They pressed more and were better tactically. They had a plan and carried it out as they wanted.”
Sport described Barca as a “shipwreck without a coach”.
“Barca fell in Paris without grandeur and without excuses,” continued Sport’s editorial.
“It was a tumultuous fall, from the first minute to the last…more than an accident, it manifested itself as an aggravation of many problems, some latent and others evident, that had already been shown up throughout the season.”
– Ageing core –
Enrique’s preference for Portuguese international Andre Gomes in midfield has been a particular bug bear for the press.
Gomes missed a huge chance to level with the score a 1-0 midway through the first-half.
Yet, humiliation in Paris laid bare broader failings in Barca’s season on and off the field from the president down to the players.
Gomes was the most expensive of six summer recruits costing over 120 million euros ($127 million) designed to add greater depth and more youth to the squad.
Yet, none of them have made a significant impression with Barca still reliant on an ageing core of Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Busquets alongside the start front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Meanwhile, suitable replacements for the departed Dani Alves and Xavi Hernandez from the Barca sides that won trebles under Pep Guardiola in 2009 and in Enrique’s first season in 2015 have yet to be found.
The most immediate order of business for president Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board is to tie down Messi with the five-time World Player of the Year just over a year away from becoming a free agent.
Yet, worryingly for Barca’s future, Messi and Suarez also turn 30 this year.
The punishment dished out to Enrique was only further evidenced by the praise lavished on Emery in his homeland.
Emery guided Sevilla to Europa League glory in each of the past three seasons and once again proved his worth on the European stage despite having managed just one win over Barca in his previous 23 attempts with Sevilla and Valencia.
“The Sheikh signed him for this,” said Madrid sports daily Marca.
“What Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc couldn’t do, Unai has within his grasp – eliminating Messi’s Barca from the European Cup.”