Luis Enrique is rebuilding his reputation quickly after finally getting PSG to play like a team

Luis Enrique has managed to rebuild his reputation quickly in his first season at Paris Saint-Germain.

With the French league title already in the bag, PSG now has a chance to win a historic treble of trophies — which would firmly re-establish Enrique as one of the top coaches in Europe after his image was tarnished by an unsuccessful spell with Spain.

PSG wrapped up the French league title with three games to spare this weekend, in one of the most dominant seasons in the league’s history.

The team is on a 26-game unbeaten streak in the league since September. With just one loss in 31 Ligue 1 matches so far, PSG has an unassailable 12-point lead over second-place Monaco.

“I wouldn’t have imagined this scenario going as positively as this,” the 53-year-old Enrique said.

The Spanish coach led Barcelona to nine trophies from 2014 to 2017, including the Champions League title, but his reputation took a big knock during his tenure with Spain’s national team. Spain had just one win in four games at the 2022 World Cup and was eliminated by Morocco in the last 16.

Enrique can put that setback firmly behind him if he manages to also lead PSG to an elusive Champions League title, something the Qatari-backed club couldn’t even achieve when it had Lionel Messi and Neymar playing alongside Kylian Mbappé.

PSG plays at Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday. It has also reached the French Cup final, where it faces Lyon on May 25.

There is no doubt PSG has made huge progress under Enrique’s helm.

PSG also won the French league in the past two seasons, but got knocked out in the last 16 of the French Cup and the Champions League under Christophe Galtier last year, and under Mauricio Pochettino in 2022.

Trophies aside, Enrique showed his leadership skills by successfully navigating the tense relations between Mbappé — who will leave the club at the end of the season — and PSG’s Qatari owners.

Enrique started Mbappé on the bench seven times this season, both to manage the France striker’s playing time and to test his options for next season. The strategy has worked well so far as Mbappé still leads the league with 26 goals — nine more than anyone else — and scored twice in the second leg against Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals.


PSG owes a lot of its success to Enrique’s tactical shrewdness.

Manuel Ugarte started the season as the team’s holding midfielder, but Enrique noticed that Vitinha was better at playing the ball out from the back than Ugarte, a ball winner by trade. So Enrique switched from using Vitinha as a box-to-box player to deploying him as a deep-lying playmaker in front of the defense. And Vitinha’s vision and passing skills have helped PSG get more control in midfield.

Likewise, Enrique quickly noticed that Lucas Beraldo struggled in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona as Robert Lewandowski dragged him all over the pitch. Enrique dropped Beraldo in the second leg to let the more experienced Marquinhos and Lucas Hernandez deal with Lewandowski. PSG won 4-1 to reverse a 3-2 home defeat in the first leg and advance.

Enrique was already known for his tactical flexibility at Barcelona, and has shown the same willingness to adapt at PSG by using different formations.

PSG has played with both a back four and a back three this season, and switched from using a lone striker in some games to two strikers in others.

Those variations helped Enrique rotate the team, make tactical experiments and create different kinds of problems for opponents.

“In order to be able to compete for every trophy, as I have said, you need a really big squad of at least 23 players. That is what we need here, and as the season has progressed, we have seen the importance of those players,” Enrique said.

Players’ versatility has been the key to Enrique’s rotation policy.

Marquinhos, Hernandez and Beraldo have been used as both center backs and fullbacks this season. Carlos Soler and Warren Zaire-Emery are midfielders but had to deputize in the right back position.

Lee Kang-in has played as a winger and as a midfielder. And Enrique even used France winger Ousmane Dembele in the No. 10 position a couple of times.

But perhaps Enrique’s greatest achievement has been to build team chemistry at a club where star players have often seemed more influential than the coaches in the past.

PSG’s repeated failures in the Champions League have usually been due to the fact that the collective performance seemed smaller than the sum of its parts.

By contrast, PSG now looks like a genuine team.


AP soccer:

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