Luis Enrique playing it close to the vest against his friend and former club

Luis Enrique playing it close to the vest against his friend and former club

Reunion weekend in Gijón was preceeded by Friday's press conference, during which the Barça manager extolled his hometown team and discussed Messi's absence

His face always lights up when he’s talking about Sporting Gijón.

His natural enthusiasm becomes more pronounced, his smile a bit wider. His eyes glint with an extra sparkle, or even two.

This is what always happens when the Barça manager, Luis Enrique Martínez — a native of Gijón, Asturias — is discussing the team of his youth, the team for which he made his first division debut way back in 1989.

Ah, the memories.

So perhaps it was surprising that the bevy of journalists on hand in the press room at the Ciutat Esportiva eschewed the traditional queries about how it felt to be going up against his hometown team and childhood friend, the Sporting manager Abelardo Fernández.

Instead, multiple questions centred on how Luis Enrique would adjust Barça’s tactics without the injured Lionel Messi.

But if anyone thought he would spill the beans to his old team and lifelong pal in the build-up to Saturday’s Week 6 La Liga meeting, they’d be dead wrong.

“I always look at different options,” he said coyly. “But anything that involves giving clues to my opponent, even though it’s Sporting Gijón and Abelardo, who are good friends of mine, I am not giving anything away.”

He did, however, offer them words of praise.

“They reinforced their team,” he said. “But it’s still the same team with the same character. They’re very good at creating pressure, especially at El Molinón.”

He continued: “They’re good at transitions, they defend well at their own end, and their supporters really provide a boost.”

“It will be as tough as any game we play away from home,” he said.

In lieu of any hints about how the team would line-up with without Messi, Luis Enrique instead furnished his personal viewpoint on life without the Argentine star.

“Last year he was out two-and-a-half months and the team responded fantastically,” he said. “We’ve got more than enough resources to deal with it and beat any team.”

Despite the coach's confident reply, there was one caveat.

“I think to win titles we need a full squad, while at the same time we do have to be able to deal with situations like this when they come up.”

On asking Neymar and others to fill the void left by Messi’s injury:

“I am not going to ask anything more of him. I just want him to give it his all and play as well as he can.”

“I don’t ask for more effort, but maybe for them to play in different positions. That’s my job.”

“I don’t think you’ll see anything different this time compared with the last time Messi was out.”

On Paco Alcácer’s adaptation:

“He has nothing to prove, we know how good he is, he is an international player.”

“More playing time would be useful, and he’ll get more with Leo out.”

On the team’s fitness amidst a run of 7 games in 23 days:

“It’s early in the season and the players are at a high level.”

“I have no doubts with regard to fitness at this stage. It’s a nine-month process.”

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