Luis Enrique: Messi decisive against Manchester City despite not scoring
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said that the sublime Lionel Messi had been the deciding factor in the tie even though the Argentine again did not score as the blaugrana outfit beat Manchester 1-0 to progress 3-1 on aggregate to the Champions League quarterfinals.
Messi did set up the only goal of Wednesday night's second leg at the Camp Nou, with his perfect lobbed through ball finished by Ivan Rakitic. But just as in last month's first meeting, the Argentine controlled the game from the right wing and regularly embarrassed his markers with his wit and control.
The blaugrana coach told his postgame news conference that it was just a quirk of fate that the dominant Messi had not found the net, while also being careful to praise the collective work of his team.
"We have such good fortune to have Messi, we are so used to him that maybe we do not realise it enough sometimes," Luis Enrique said. "It is curious that he has not scored in either of the legs, but without doubt he was determining player in both games. We all know who Lionel Messi is, without doubt best player in the world, and for me in the history of football. We need to do a lot of things together, as we are doing. I congratulate all who participated tonight, and everyone at the club, it is a night to enjoy."
Messi would have scored but for a string of superb saves from City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who also frustrated Neymar and Luis Suarez as Barca continually sliced through the porous visiting defence. Luis Enrique praised the England number one's performance, while also saying his attackers should really have taken some of their many chances.
"We must take advantage better of the chances we have one-on-one with the keeper," he said. "Normally the game would have finished with a much more favourable result for us. We had a lot of chances to kill the game in the first half. Their keeper Hart was very good, and that kept the game open until the end. But we must be happy with the work and attitude of the team."
The former Barca and Madrid midfielder said the result and performance set his side up well for Sunday's La Liga Clasico at home to Los Blancos.
"I have the feeling we are arriving well for the Clasico," Luis Enrique said. "We are La Liga leaders, have done our work in the Copa del Rey, and are waiting for Friday's Champions League draw. We are ready to put on a good show on Sunday. But it will not be decisive, and to talk of favourites seems risky or arrogant to me."
The current Barca boss said he had not been able to speak yet to his predecessor and former teammate Pep Guardiola, who attended the game using his season ticket, while hinting he would prefer to avoid Pep's current side Bayern in Friday's draw.
"I have not been able to speak with Pep. I know he was in his place in the stand as the good cule he is, I'll see if there is time now," Luis Enrique said. "Of course we will exchange some messages. But we will wait and see who we get in the draw. I would prefer to dodge some opponents, but am sure we will be fine against whoever we get."
Asked if the Premier League's lack of a winter break was perhaps a factor in City joining Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in being already knocked out of this year's Champions League, Luis Enrique said it was not his place to say, although he enjoyed watching English games while he was having his rest over Christmas.
"I do not know if it is a problem, but it is really nice for us to watch Boxing Day goals when we're on holidays," he said with a smile. "We are used to resting and being with our family in those dates. It is something cultural, but I do not know if it is disadvantage of or not, I will not comment on that. City have been knocked out in these two years, maybe as they got Barca, which is not nice for either team. It is a very attractive league, but in recent years not maybe getting the results they want. But it is difficult. There are very good teams in Europe, and it is always difficult to achieve your objectives in these competitions."