Leaders Barca continue title bid after Luis Enrique bombshell

By Richard Martin
Football Soccer - Atletico Madrid v Barcelona - Spanish La Liga Santander - Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid, Spain, 26/02/17 Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique Martinez. REUTERS/Juan Medina

By Richard Martin

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona fans will let Luis Enrique know their true feelings about his planned departure when the champions host Celta Vigo on Saturday, looking to consolidate their new-found lead at the top of the La Liga table.

Barca returned to the league's summit at Real Madrid's expense after they blitzed struggling Sporting Gijon 6-1 and Real settled for a 3-3 draw against Las Palmas, but the news was overshadowed by the coach's announcement he would leave at the end of the campaign.

Despite spending eight years with Barca as a player and winning eight out of 10 trophies as first team coach, Luis Enrique divides opinion at the Nou Camp.

His name is often chanted by the vociferous supporters who occupy the Gol Nord end of the stadium. But he has also been subjected to boos and whistles by other fans, who believe he has abandoned the style of play perfected by Pep Guardiola.

A former club of Luis Enrique's, Celta Vigo are fitting opponents for his first game since announcing his plans to end his trophy-laden spell at Barca, although the Galicians have proved difficult opponents for him in recent years.

Eduardo Berizzo's side, the only Spanish team left in the Europa League, were the last team to beat Barca in the league. They won 4-3 at Balaidos in October and thrashed the Catalans 4-1 at home last season.

They were also responsible for Luis Enrique's first home defeat in his debut campaign at the Nou Camp, although it was against Celta last year that Barca produced arguably their finest display under the coach.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar served up a breathtaking exhibition of attacking football in a 6-1 thumping last February which also saw Messi tee up Suarez from the penalty spot.

The three forwards were on target against Sporting, Barca's first big win since their harrowing 4-0 defeat to Paris St Germain in the Champions League, and Ivan Rakitic said the team are determined to give the coach a fitting send off.

"We were left stunned and at a loss for words. We want to end the season successfully and enjoy what is left," said the Croatian midfielder.

Real Madrid visit Basque minnows Eibar without Gareth Bale after the Wales international was sent off against Las Palmas, where two late strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo prevented a second defeat for Zinedine Zidane's side in three games.

The French coach admitted something had to change to arrest their recent slide and prevent their bid for a first league title since 2012 derailing. He said:

"We weren't perfect before, but in the last few games we haven't been playing well, but we're going to change that for sure."

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Larry King)