Iniesta the closest to Messi – Luis Enrique

By Sports Desk March 27, 2020

Spain boss Luis Enrique revealed Andres Iniesta was the closest talent to Lionel Messi he has coached.

A record six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Messi is widely regarded as one of the best players of all-time.

Luis Enrique coached Messi and Iniesta at Barcelona, where he was at the helm from 2014-17.

In a Q&A on the Spain national team's Facebook page, Luis Enrique talked up both Iniesta, now playing for Vissel Kobe, and Messi.

"The player that impressed me most in my career, I don't know if you mean being myself as a player or as a coach or both, without doubt is Leo Messi," he said.

"Afterwards, I can say that Andres Iniesta is close to something similar to Leo Messi.

"But Messi is hugely different in respect to the others."

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  • Zidane labels Benzema 'a joy for football' as talisman prepares for Madrid derby return Zidane labels Benzema 'a joy for football' as talisman prepares for Madrid derby return

    Zinedine Zidane described Karim Benzema as a "joy for football" as the Real Madrid boss prepared to welcome the striker back for Sunday's crucial derby with Atletico Madrid.

    Madrid make the short trip to the Wanda Metropolitano with Los Blancos trailing their LaLiga-leading neighbours by five points, Atletico also having the benefit of a game in hand.

    Having returned to training this week following an ankle injury that has kept him out since February 14, Benzema is back in the frame for a game that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title.

    "Karim is going to be with us," Zidane told a media conference. "We know what Karim is. Not just the matter of goals.

    "He is an important player for us in our system and especially when we have the ball.

    "He is special. What he does on the field... For people who like football, Benzema is a joy for football; for me, having him as a coach is a joy.

    "He has been here for 10 years and has improved a lot. He is a fundamental player for us, for our team. He is a special player for all football fans, not just Madrid."

    While Zidane will have Benzema at his disposal, he will be without Eden Hazard, the Belgium playmaker having not featured since January because of a muscle issue.

    But Zidane denied reports Hazard had suffered a setback in his recovery.

    "There is no relapse. We want him to be 100 per cent when he can return," added Zidane. "This is what he is doing, little by little, without haste.

    "We know how important he is in our team, but we have to go with how he feels. It is important that, when he returns, he feels strong and 100 per cent.

    "We are not going to risk anything on his return. He is progressing very well, and I hope that next week maybe he can be with us for good."

    Benzema could make a crucial difference for Madrid, though.

    In the 21 league games in which he has featured this season, Madrid have won 15, drawn three and lost three. In the four games in which he has been absent, Madrid have won one, drawn two and lost one, averaging a point less across those matches.

    They have averaged almost a goal per game more (1.9 to 1.0) with Benzema in the line-up compared to when he has not been available, the Frenchman having found the net 12 times in LaLiga this term.

    However, even if Madrid are defeated by Atletico, Zidane will not see it as a death knell for their hopes of retaining the title.

    "We play another game, three points at stake," said Zidane. "It is a final, but like all games. When we play we always have to win.

    "Whatever happens, we will stay alive in La Liga. We are focused on playing a good game and nothing else. If we play well, that is the most important thing for us."

  • Madrid derby will not settle LaLiga title race, insists Simeone Madrid derby will not settle LaLiga title race, insists Simeone

    Diego Simeone sees no reason to think the LaLiga title race could be over if Atletico Madrid beat Real Madrid on Sunday.

    Atleti head into the derby at the Wanda Metropolitano with a five-point lead at the top of the table over their city rivals and Barcelona and a game in hand on both.

    Simeone's men lost the reverse fixture 2-0 in December but then went on a run of nine consecutive league wins to put them in a commanding position at the top.

    However, dropped points last month against Levante (twice) and Celta Vigo allowed Madrid and Barca to close the gap and a third home defeat in a row in all competitions would truly reignite a three-way title battle.

    The omens are not good for Atletico, either, as they are on a nine-game winless run against Madrid in LaLiga, have failed to score in the last 355 minutes of that sequence and have yet to beat Los Blancos in the top flight at the Wanda Metropolitano.

    Madrid have also found form away from home of late, winning each of their last three league games on the road, one short of their best run set under Zinedine Zidane last July.

    Simeone, who has won just 12.5 per cent of league matches against Zidane, does not believe ending their poor recent derby record will be enough to consider the title race is in their hands.

    "It's a really beautiful championship and all the important teams are seeking the best positions in the table," he said on Saturday.

    "It's a top-of-the-table game, a direct game between two teams fighting for similar positions, but they're three points. There's still a long way to go in LaLiga and we'll try to take the game where we want so we can cause some damage.

    "A few games ago, we were talking about a league where Real Madrid and Barcelona had no chance, and look where they are now. We know how difficult this championship is."

    Joao Felix has begun to find form of late, the €126million man having scored a superb second in Atletico's 2-0 win at Villarreal last time out.

    Simeone has yet to decide whether to start the talented Portugal youngster alongside Luis Suarez or to go with the more hard-working Angel Correa.

    "Joao and Angel have different characteristics," he said. "Angel gives us more dynamism in the team's collective work, with a lot more directness in his play, and Joao has a special talent that can produce something nobody else has and, from the point of view of the number of goals, Joao's are very good.

    "The competition is very good, very healthy, very beautiful. The two will play: one will start, and another will have to wait, but certainly both will play."

  • Luis Suarez: Real Madrid's 'old' enemy leading Atletico back towards LaLiga title Luis Suarez: Real Madrid's 'old' enemy leading Atletico back towards LaLiga title

    The last derby was a rare off-day for Atletico Madrid – and for Luis Suarez.

    On a run of seven wins in a row and two goals conceded, with no LaLiga defeats all season, Diego Simeone's men were second best in a 2-0 defeat last December. As for Suarez, his 73 minutes on the pitch yielded a single, wayward shot.

    Still, that result turned out to be an aberration. Three months on, Atleti head into Sunday's game at the Wanda Metropolitano with a five-point lead over Real Madrid and Barca at the top of the table, and with a game in hand. Suarez, meanwhile, has scored 11 of his 16 LaLiga goals this term since that chastening day at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

    Suarez's form for Atleti has made a complete mockery of Barca's decision to cast him aside last year, the suggestion the striker was "too old" to be relied upon looking more foolish by the week as he spearheads their charge for a first league title since 2014.

    Indeed, given his record against Madrid and the state of the league table, this weekend could be the moment Suarez tips the balance of the title race inexorably in Atletico's favour.

    OLD HABITS

    It wasn't simply being told to leave by Barca that left Suarez so incensed; it was being made to feel he was no longer good enough for "a great team".

    "That's what I did not like," he told France Football. "If I hadn't done anything at a club like Barca for three or four seasons, I would have understood.

    "But, every year at Barca, I scored more than 20 goals per season. I have always had good statistics, just behind Leo [Messi]."

    So he is again. Suarez's 16 goals in 21 league games this term puts him second in the top-scorer standings, three behind Messi. Add in assists, and only his old team-mate (23) has had more direct goal involvements than Suarez (18) in LaLiga this season.

    While Suarez is no longer as explosive as he was at Liverpool and in his earlier Barca years, he has lost little of his ruthlessness. Discounting the two penalties he has converted this term, Suarez has scored 14 times from an expected goals value of just 9.6. That differential of 4.4 is the biggest in the division, save for that of 'El Comandante', Levante's 33-year-old star striker Jose Luis Morales (5.0).

    It follows that Suarez has a shot conversion rate (including blocked shots) of 23.9, the fourth-highest figure for any LaLiga player with at least 10 goals this season, the best being Roger Marti with 31.3.

    The Uruguayan also boasts a big chance conversion rate of 63.2 per cent, having scored 12 out of 19 this term. No player to have scored from at least 10 big chances can match that success rate. That cutting edge in a team that has conceded just 16 league goals in 24 matches is a potent combination.

    CAN SUAREZ STOP THE DERBY ROT?

    Atleti followed December's derby defeat by winning 10 of their next 12 games, the only slip-ups being a Copa del Rey shock at Cornella and a 2-2 home draw with Celta Vigo on February 8 (in which Suarez scored twice).

    However, including that result, they have won only twice in their past five league matches, a run that has emboldened Barca and Madrid's title hopes and left fans wondering whether 'Hay Liga' after all.

    A dip in form before a derby is never positive, but Atleti in particular need no extra pessimism. They have not won any of the most recent nine league meetings with Madrid, their longest run without a victory under Diego Simeone, and they have not even scored in the previous three. Only once in their history have they gone four league derbies without a goal.

    Madrid are also the only team to play a league match at the Wanda Metropolitano without ever losing (one win, two draws), with Simeone having won only 12.5 per cent of league games against opposite number Zinedine Zidane, his worst return against any coach from at least four meetings.

    But Suarez has happy memories of facing Los Blancos. Although he's gone two games without scoring against them, his goal record overall reads nine scored in 12 league appearances versus Madrid, the most of any player since his first season in Spain in 2014-15.

    What's more, he has an all-important side-kick back in form.

    JOAO, THAT'S IMPRESSIVE

    Joao Felix's sublime strike against Villarreal secured a valuable three points for Atleti last time out and ended his own month-long goal drought. He responded with a stony-faced 'shushing' celebration, to which a delighted Simeone responded: "I love it when players rebel."

    Simeone will be desperate to see his €126m man in a similar mood come Sunday. Not only is he Atleti's most exciting individual talent, but he's also the man who has brought the best out of Suarez this season.

    Joao Felix has created eight chances for Suarez in LaLiga in 2020-21, more than any other Atleti player. Of his four assists, three have been for the former Ajax man; only Marcos Llorente has provided as many for Atleti's number nine.

    Perhaps Suarez has found a kindred spirit in Joao Felix: supremely talented, decisive, and "rebellious". What better double act to deploy in the Atleti's most important LaLiga derby in seven years?

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