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On the eve of FC Barcelona’s first match in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League, manager Luis Enrique Martínez was on double duty.
Following an uncharacteristic league defeat at home less than 48 hours earlier, the Barça coach was a human fulcrum balancing a heavy dose of questions whose subject matter see-sawed back and forth, alternating somewhat predictably between the lessons of Saturday’s down performance and whether Tuesday night’s continental opener would see his team rise again.
“It’s essential for morale,” he said. “Especially after a league defeat.”
Pressed for a more specific answer, Luis Enrique responded slyly: “We’ll see tomorrow night at around 11.00pm.”
But while some queries may require a crystal ball in order to be answered, others are not so mysterious — like Celtic’s playing style.
Barça and Celtic have already faced each other once this campaign, albeit in a preseason friendly, which Barça won, 3–1.
Tomorrow’s game should be “similar to the preseason,” Luis Enrique said. “That’s because of the coach’s ideas. The way they play the ball, the way they put on the pressure to get it back. They’re a tough rival, they went through [the preliminary rounds and the playoff round] into the Champions League group stage, and they’re in our group.”
In addition to Celtic, Barça also face Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach in Group C. Reporters were quick to point out that advancing to the round of 16 this year was no easy task.
Luis Enrique, however, is focused on the present.
“Our objective is the next game,” he said. “It’s the only one we are thinking about. I want to focus on now, which is to beat Celtic.”
Asked how Barça plans on doing that, the Asturias native was crystal clear.
“We’ll need to circulate the ball well, be strong on defense, and be effective.”
On whether goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen will play against Celtic:
“Well see but he played a full [training] session today, so it looks good.”
On what he said to the players after the loss to Alavés:
“We have a talk after every game about what happens on the pitch. That’s something between the staff and players, we do it over 60 times per season.”
“We always have things to improve after wins and losses.”
“I was clear after the game that we were moving in the right direction. But it’s not an exact science and you can win or lose.”
“We want to identify the problems and find the solutions. Football is so complex, anything can happen.”
On new goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen:
"He’s a very good goalkeeper, he wasn’t lucky in the two goals [against Alavés]. He’s fine."
“Being a goalkeeper at Barça is very complicated, you face very few shots but they are tough.”
On whether he expects Celtic to play five defenders:
“They did in the preseason, but they conceded a couple goals. We contemplate all possibilities, they always press after losing the ball, they don’t fall back. We like that about Celtic.”
On Lionel Messi:
“I’d like him to play every single minute, and he would as well. But it will be him and his health that decide that.”
On Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers:
“I like him as a coach. He loves football, he has attractive ideas. He likes players who can assume the burden of matches.”
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