Luis Enrique anticipates Barcelona-Arsenal Champions League thriller
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique seems to be just as excited as most football fans about the matchup between his team and Arsenal in the Champions League.
Ahead of the first leg of their round-of-16 tie at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, Luis Enrique said spectators should be in for a treat when the two teams known for possession-based attacking football square off.
"I think on paper this is one of the most attractive and entertaining games of football you can find, if you like that style of football," Luis Enrique said at a news conference on Monday. "But football can always be a surprise. I think tomorrow we will watch a really good game, because we both want to dominate."
Earlier on Monday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said Barcelona are the "super favourites" in the tie, a claim that was brushed off by both Luis Enrique and midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
"He can have his own opinion obviously," Luis Enrique said about Wenger. "We are the current Champions League champions and I think it's logical that we are tagged favourites against Arsenal. But being favourites means absolutely nothing. We have to prove our qualities in game after game. And playing away from home is very difficult."
Rakitic said Barcelona are entering the game full of confidence after going eight points clear in the Spanish league and with the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in irrepressible form. But while Barcelona are on course to repeat their treble from last season and Arsenal haven't been past the last 16 of the Champions League since 2010, the Croatian said the North London team must still be respected.
"Last year we had an excellent run and we won plenty of trophies, and it's obvious that if you're the current winner of the Champions League you are the favourites. But Arsenal have a lot of history too," Rakitic said. "It's difficult to talk about favourites. Arsenal have plenty of qualities too."
That includes Petr Cech, the former Chelsea goalkeeper who has plenty of experience playing against Barcelona. Cech helped Chelsea eliminate the Catalan club in the 2012 semifinals and has faced Messi in six games without the Argentina star scoring a single goal.
"I hope that we can change it tomorrow," Rakitic said of Cech's record against Messi. "Of course it's one of the best goalkeepers not only now but in the history of football. So of course we have a lot of respect for Petr Cech. But even if Lionel doesn't score against him I hope other players can score."
And keeping the entire Messi-Neymar-Suarez trident scoreless seems almost impossible at the moment. The trio has combined for 91 goals already this season. Asked how he manages to get the best out of his star forwards, Luis Enrique had a simple answer: "I tell them 'Abracadabra' and the magic sparks. That is all I do," he joked.
"To be honest it's quite simple, in some situations of the game you don't even have to wish what you want them to do because they already to do it," he added.