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What can Xavi and Barcelona learn from Luis Enrique?

The new PSG manager looks to rebuild a club in crisis

Paris Saint-Germain Training Session Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Nasser Al-Khelaifi and PSG may not have a Champions League, but they have made themselves famous by poking the bear that is Barcelona.

First, they stole Neymar, presumably Barca’s future, in 2017. Then they came for Lionel Messi when the Catalan giants were most vulnerable.

This summer, they hired one of Barcelona’s most successful coaches in Luis Enrique, and then took Xavi’s favorite player in Ousmane Dembele.

To make matters worse, the signing rubs salt in the wounds of Barca’s president, who had been ready to give up on Dembele, but ultimately thought he had achieved a big victory with a contract renewal for the star player at lower wages. Win win. You get the player, and a show of strength that Barca won’t be pushed around.

Pushing around Barca, however, is exactly what PSG likes to do.

If you can’t beat them, at least make their life difficult.

AC Milan v FC Barcelona - Preseason Friendly Photo by Marco Steinbrenner/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

But the arrival of Luis Enrique may be the the best decision that Al-Khelaifi has made in his tenure.

And ultimately, if you’re a Barca fan, watching how the former manager performs will be fascinating, especially in comparison to what will be a make or break year for Xavi, the man the club has put their trust in.

From Roma, to Celta Vigo, to Barcelona, and finally with the Spanish national team, Lucho has had mixed results.

But one thing you can’t take from him is the treble he won with Barcelona in 2015.

For me, more than anything else, that season was about managing the egos of superstars, and getting everyone to sacrifice for one another with a smile on their faces.

Messi, Suarez, and Neymar didn’t care who scored the goal. They cared about winning, and they had fun every step of the way.

FC Barcelona v Valencia CF - La Liga Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Barca’s big magical comeback was against none other than PSG in the Champions League in 2017 in what was Luis Enrique’s last hurrah with the club. It was a day that lives in infamy for PSG. And for Barca, one of the last moments of true joy from the Messi era when anything seemed possible.

It’s hard to imagine now that Barcelona is capable of producing a remontada. Not in Europe, or even against the lowest team in La Liga team. The grit and belief has yet to return.

So who better to lead PSG forward now than the last man to lead Barca to the top of the footballing world?

At a time when Kylian Mbappe looks to be on his way out, and Neymar looks to be on the way down, Luis Enrique is the manager with the profile for the task at hand.

He may not be a tactical genius, but he is a serious coach.

Paris Saint-Germain Training Session Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Paris Saint-Germain Football/PSG via Getty Images

He’s someone the players respect, and he’s not afraid to hurt feelings if it’s in the best interest of the team. Just ask Jordi Alba who was benched under Luis Enrique at Barcelona, only to fight his way back into his good graces for La Roja. Based on merit, and perceived fit with the system he wanted to play.

With Dembele, Lucho has a replacement for Mbappe, or maybe even a new card to play in trying to keep him at the club. Dembele and Mbappe had great chemistry at the World Cup, and make a devastating left and right wing combination.

Either way, at the price he comes in at, the signing of the Frenchman is a steal for the new manager, and one that will inject much-needed life into a club in crisis, and looking to rebuild for real this team under their new manager.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

It will be interesting to compare the achievements of Luis Enrique at PSG with Xavi at Barcelona.

The most important decisions a manager makes are the players they ask the club to sign.

Xavi’s season may depend heavily on his choice to sign Raphinha and Ferran Torres for hundreds of millions of euros, and whether Robert Lewandowski can get back to his old goalscoring form.

Now, he will also be tested with his ability to revitalize the magic of Ansu Fati, after spending a season not counting on the young forward, and subsequently damaging his young and fragile confidence. It’s not enough as a manager to rate or not rate players. You have to work with what you have, and prove that you can make your team more than the sum of its parts.

AC Milan v FC Barcelona - Preseason Friendly Photo by Marco Steinbrenner/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

And Luis Enrique will have a similar job to do with Neymar, who has fallen off the wagon in recent seasons. Can the two of them produce glory at the Parc des Princes as they did together at the Camp Nou?

Barcelona and PSG are living on a knife’s edge.

Both clubs must win now, in the Champions League especially.

How will Xavi and Joan Laporta respond to the latest Parisian blow?

Focusing on the defense, and strengthening with a new full-back, is certainly priority number one.

But the biggest question will be the firepower of the forwards.

How important was Dembele to Xavi’s team after all?

AC Milan v FC Barcelona - Preseason Friendly Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Does Barca have enough to replace his impact by committee? Or do they need to look to the market? If so, Xavi will need to do better in identifying talent.

And how good will Dembele be for Luis Enrique and PSG?

Will he suffer the same fate as Neymar and Messi? Or will his French homecoming be a success?

Xavi needs to show he can respond to this adversity without making excuses. Like Luis Enrique, he needs to show strength, manage the dressing room, and demand the highest standards from his players from the beginning.

Without Dembele, I expect the midfielders to run the show, as they did when the Frenchman was injured last season.

But who will create and finish the goals is an open question?

It’s in Xavi’s hands to figure it out.

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