The prematch lineup came out and some fans were already in revolt. “Luis Enrique is giving up!” “Time to sack him!” The pitchforks were readied.
Jérémy Mathieu at left back? Paco Alcácer starting? Arda Turan in midfield? André Gomes as the pivot? Against a team like Athletic Club Bilbao, you use only 4 starters?
Time for the pitchforks!
Except... Barcelona won 3-0. All right, there was a slice of luck in not conceding early, when Athletic mercifully let off some poor defending from Barcelona, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it was quite the result.
Clearly this is the team Luis Enrique envisioned with the signings at the start of the season, and indeed, throughout his time as head coach. One he could rotate to an absurd degree and still get quality results with thanks to smart, hard-working, and versatile players.
From that starting XI, only three players predate Luis Enrique's time as manager - Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Gerard Piqué. (Four if you count Rafinha, who Lucho managed at Barcelona B and at Celta before bringing him back to Barcelona.)
Alcácer, maligned for his lack of goals, opened the scoring. Turan played well. Gomes and Mathieu got the job done.
And after a Messi freekick goal, Aleix Vidal got the third. Vidal is building on confident performances despite the fact that Lucho more or less wanted him out. But in the end, the decision to sign him and now keep him is at least partly Lucho’s. His success is just another part of this big puzzle the coach is putting together.
Will it always work this well? Certainly not, but this was a glimpse to the end product Luis Enrique is hoping for this season.