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Luis Enrique led Barça's final workout on Tuesday before their match at Sporting de Gijón. / MIGUEL RUIZ- FCB

Wednesday’s La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Sporting de Gijón will be one of mixed emotions.  

To start off, Barça manager Luis Enrique is from Gijón, the biggest city in Asturias, Spain, and came up through Sporting’s youth system, eventually debuting for them in the Spanish First Division before eventually going on to a nine-year career at the Catalan Club he now coaches.

If that weren’t enough, during a recent press conference he was even asked who he would be if he could reincarnate as a player from any team in the world. “Good question!” he said, before continuing: “I’d be happy to be any Barça football player, but also Sporting Gijón, why not?”

Another ingredient to Wednesday’s matchup — an encounter that was pushed back from Week 16 in December due to a scheduling conflict with the FIFA Club World Cup — is Sporting’s head coach, Abelardo Fernández, who played for Barça from 1994 to 2002 and was effusive in his praise of both Luis Enrique and FC Barcelona in a video interview earlier this week.

The two managers have been friends for years, but “we never thought we'd meet as coaches,” Luis Enrique said when asked about their relationship during Tuesday’s pre-Sporting press conference at the Ciutat Esportiva.

And to add one final twist to the cocktail, Wednesday’s meeting features one more name, or rather a player who is trying to make a name — Alen Halilović, a 19-year-old Croatian midfielder who is currently on loan from (you guessed it) FC Barcelona to (you guessed it again) Sporting de Gijón.

"Halilović has got a long road ahead but he is getting the minutes he needs in the First Division," Luis Enrique said. The teenager, who gave an interview to fcbarcelona.com in anticipation of the matchup, is expected to play against many of his friends on Wednesday, including countryman Ivan Rakitic.

Beyond the emotional links between the two teams, there will be three points in play as FCB look to up their advantage at the top of the table while Sporting try to distance themselves from the relegation zone.

Here are the highlights of what Luis Enrique had to say about Wednesday’s game:

On returning to his hometown stadium:

"Whenever I go back to El Molinón, it's special. But tomorrow I'm going back as a coach and I want to win."

On his relationship with Abelardo:

“We’ve been great friends since we were seven years old. We have a great relationship. But we’ve never met as coaches and we never thought we would."

On Abelardo’s coaching:

“Last year he got the team — which wasn’t one of the best teams in the Second Division — to move up top the top flight through good football and being very tough to beat.”

On Sporting as a team:

“They’re a very hard-working team that uses their defence to manage their attacks and they’re one of the most intense teams in the league.”

“I see them capable of avoiding relegation even though they haven’t reinforced the team very much. They’re very competitive.”

On Abelardo’s light-hearted assertion that Barça’s 30-game unbeaten streak will end on Wednesday night:

“I hope it doesn’t end, but if we have to lose somewhere I hope it’s there, even if I would prefer for the streak to last 100 games if possible.”

On the implications for the league standings:

“This game gives us a chance to put some more distance between us and our direct rivals.”

“A victory would be a big step towards our objective, but it wouldn’t be definitive.”


Luis Enrique: “It will be special, but I want... by fcbarcelona

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