Luis Enrique’s Barcelona will begin their Champions League title defense on Wednesday at the club where he began his top-level coaching career. After a spell in charge of Barcelona’s B team, the former Spain international took charge of Roma in 2011, but lasted just a single season in the Italian capital. Yet, three years on, he will return to the Stadio Olimpico as the coach who led Barcelona to a Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey treble last season.
“I feel a few years older since then and to return is part of the logical progression which every coach must go through. Going back to Rome for me to is to remember many positive and interesting things,” he said, reports Spanish sports daily AS. “My time here wasn’t without difficulties but my memories are positive. That aside, what matters now is this competition and we have to get off to a good start. It’s not my style to think, well, I’m coming back here after having won a lot of trophies. I have the opportunity to come back to a great city, a great club -- one which I have a lot of fond memories of.”
The venue also holds particular significance for Enrique’s current club. It was at the Stadio Olimpico where Barcelona lifted their third European Cup when defeating Manchester United in 2009. Now with five European triumphs under their belt, Barcelona’s quest is to become the first side ever to win back-to-back Champions Leagues. Enrique, though, insists the challenge represents a motivation rather than a burden.
“We’re not under any pressure to win two consecutive Champions Leagues but it is a marvelous stimulus for the team -- one which we are up to and one which every culé [Barcelona supporter] is relishing. We know how difficult it is because no team has ever done it which is why we have to try to achieve it.”
Despite struggles with injuries -- Dani Alves and Thomas Vermaelen will miss the trip to the Italian capital -- and a thin squad, Barcelona have made a strong start to their Spanish Primera División title defense. A 2-1 win over Atlético Madrid on Saturday -- secured with a goal by substitute Lionel Messi -- made it three straight wins to begin the league campaign.
Their opponents have also made a healthy start to the season. Seeking their first Scudetto in 15 years, following runners-up finishes in the past two seasons, Roma have taken seven points from three games in Serie A. Included in that was a 2-1 win over champions Juventus. Having added players like Edin Dzeko, Wojciech Szczesny and Mohamed Salah over the summer, coach Rudi Garcia is also keen for his side to make an impact in the Champions League.
In their return to the group stage for the first time in four years last season, Roma narrowly lost out on a place in the knockout phase to Bayern Munich and Manchester City. With Bayer Leverkusen also in Group E, alongside Barcelona, it promises to be another tough challenge to make it through this time around.
“Barcelona are defending European champions,” he said, according to Uefa.com. “If they aren't the best in the world, they are certainly among the best. We'll play with humility and ambition. We want to qualify, and this is the first of six games in which we will do our very best to get points.
“We will have to play as a team, in defense and attack. We will give it everything and work for each other, and use the ball properly when we attack.”
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1