Two resurgent managers, once maligned!

Luis Enrique has ensured that while Barcelona’s primary preference remains a mastery of possession, it can hurt the opposition in various ways now.-REUTERS

Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri, in charge of Barcelona and Juventus respectively, will grace one of the biggest stages in football — the Champions League final — with their reputations enhanced after enduring a period of mind-numbing hostility. They have also transformed their sides’ style of playing. By Priyansh.

At different points this season, Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri have endured mind-numbing hostility at Barcelona and Juventus respectively. The two managers, in their first season with the clubs, faced enough doubts over their ability to render their position uncomfortable. Enrique, in fact, was perilously close to the sack around four months ago.

The idea of a crisis festers too quickly at a big club like Barcelona. Lose two matches and the demons will encircle you. It didn’t help Enrique that there were reports of him falling-out with Lionel Messi. Fair to say, if those two hadn’t set aside their differences, it’s unlikely that Barcelona would have experienced a smooth passage into the Champions League final.

On June 6 in Berlin, the Catalan side’s opponent will be Juventus. The Old Lady of Turin had received much criticism when it had appointed Allegri at the start of the season. The vagaries of public memory dictated that he was maligned for AC Milan’s struggles in the preceding two and a half campaigns. Only six months after being sacked by the Rossoneri, Allegri had inherited a side that had won the last three Serie A titles.

However, many had forgotten that the former midfielder had guided Milan to the Scudetto in his first season as the club’s manager. It didn’t help Allegri that the Italian giant consciously adopted an austere policy in the transfer market for the following campaigns. In light of the manager’s comfortable charge to the Serie A title with Juventus this season, it’s fair to say Milan would have experienced better times if it didn’t suffer from a paucity of financial investment.

Hence, Enrique and Allegri will grace one of the biggest stages in football with their reputations enhanced. They have also transformed their sides’ style of playing.

Under Antonio Conte, Juventus looked lost when it faced teams that kept the ball well and pressed its defence with intensity. The Turin club had been knocked out in the group stage last season. However, this year, Juventus has looked at home in Europe as it has experienced little difficulty in playing dour, reactive football.

The squad’s ability to seamlessly shift from a three-man defence to a four-man backline or vice-versa proved decisive in its semifinal against Real Madrid. In both legs, when Juventus had to defend a lead, Andrea Barzagli was introduced to man a three-member defence.

Barcelona is in its first European final for four seasons thanks to a marked change from Pep Guardiola’s days. While it would be churlish to discredit the current Bayern Munich manager, there’s no doubt that Luis Enrique’s charges are not averse to playing direct passes to the forward trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. This was not the case under Guardiola.

There were concerns over Suarez’s adaptability in the side but since his return from the long suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, he has added a different dimension to Barcelona’s attack. Lionel Messi’s decision to play in a deeper position this season helped Suarez and Neymar further. The result has been a devastating 114 goals in this campaign (till May 15, 2015).

With such attacking gifts on offer, it’s not a surprise that Enrique devised a method that facilitated quicker ball circulation to the front trio. While Barcelona’s primary preference remains a mastery of possession, it can hurt the opposition in various ways now.

This could prove to be decisive when it meets Juventus in the final. It’s obvious that the Italian club has punched above its weight; Barcelona’s experience and quality could prove too much for Allegri’s side. But doughtiness and a hint of fortune has characterised Juventus’ passage into the final. One can be certain that it won’t be a willing opponent in face of the expected Barcelona onslaught.