Zidane and Luis Enrique get little credit despite feats
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Despite being former midfield heroes for the clubs they now manage, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique and his Real Madrid counterpart Zinedine Zidane are afforded little credit for their achievements in management.
The duo famously clashed on the pitch in a heated 'Clasico' in 2003 when Zidane grabbed Luis Enrique's face following a rough tackle from Barca's Carles Puyol and they will stand metres apart on the Nou Camp sidelines on Saturday.
In less than 11 months since succeeding Rafael Benitez, Zidane has revitalised a side that had become stale. He won the Champions League last season and has taken Real six points clear at the top of the league in this campaign.
Under the Frenchman in September, Real equalled the Liga record of 16 consecutive wins set by Barcelona in 2011 and they are two games from equalling the club's longest-ever unbeaten streak of 34 games, which dates back to 1989/90.
Luis Enrique holds the longest unbeaten run in Spanish history, set earlier this year when Barcelona went 39 games without defeat.
"Zizou" has also won more points in his first 33 games than any other manager in the history of La Liga, but doubts still hang over his true abilities as a coach.
Zidane came in for plenty of criticism after Real drew four games in a row earlier in the campaign, being accused of failing to stamp an identity on the team or offer tactical solutions to their problems.
Redemption came with a tactical masterclass last month in which they beat Atletico Madrid 3-0, Real's first league win over their city rivals in more than three years.
With Karim Benzema not yet fully fit, Zidane shuffled his pack, swapping his usual 4-3-3 for a 4-2-3-1, with Cristiano Ronaldo the centre forward and Isco behind him. The Spaniard pulled Real's strings, while Ronaldo netted a hat-trick in a deserved win.
The merits of that strong display were quickly forgotten, however, as Real laboured to a 2-1 win at Sporting Lisbon and almost dropped two points in a haphazard display against Sporting Gijon in their last league game, with only a squandered penalty by the visiting side sparing a huge embarrassment.
Luis Enrique has also faced plenty of questioning despite amassing silverware with Barca.
The Catalans have won nine out of 11 competitions entered under his guidance, the crowning jewel being the 2015 Champions League.
A lot of the credit for those triumphs has not gone to the coach, however, but to the front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez who scored 131 goals last season and 122 in their first campaign together.
As the magic of the trio has faded this season, with Barca registering their worst points total at the same stage of the season since 2004, there has been a clamour in the Catalan media for a change in the team's style of play in order to exert greater control in midfield.
The threat of Real marching nine points clear at the top of La Liga come Saturday evening will certainly test the mettle of both coaches but whichever team wins the Clasico, neither Luis Enrique nor Zidane will expect much adulation from the media the morning after.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)