MADRID, Spain, January 19 – Barcelona boss Luis Enrique hailed Lionel Messi’s consistent brilliance this season after the Argentine took his tally to 28 goals in 27 games with a hat-trick in a 4-0 win away to Deportivo la Coruna on Sunday.
Messi and Enrique’s relationship has reportedly been frosty since the four-time World Player of the Year had been left on the bench for his side’s 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad earlier this month.
However, Enrique has repeatedly insisted Messi remains the best player in the world and refused suggestions he has taken his form to another level over the past week with another stellar performance after vanquishing La Liga champions Atletico Madrid last weekend with a goal and two assists.
“Messi has been at an extraordinarily high level all season,” said Enrique, despite reports of a dressing room rift between the two in recent weeks.
“He hasn’t dipped at any point. He has been world class.”
Victory brought Barca back to within a point of league leaders Real Madrid and continued their positive response to an institutional crisis that enveloped the club following the Sociedad defeat.
However, Enrique is still looking for further improvements if the Catalans are to continue their pursuit of honours on three fronts this season.
“Winning is good for the players’ confidence but there are still many things to improve, both in attack and defence.
“We still need to improve in both areas because that is the only way to challenge for all the titles.”
One of the reported reasons for the dressing room discontent with Enrique has been his much criticised rotation policy.
The 44-year-old named a different line-up for the 29th consecutive game, but maintained the same 11 that started against Atletico last weekend.
However, he refused to admit he had bowed to pressure from his players for a more settled side.
“I am not faithful to one single manner of doing things. I played the 11 I think will work best.
“We will be stronger the more players we have contributing to the cause.”
And Barca’s captain on the day Andres Iniesta backed his coach’s intention to keep all his players heavily involved throughout the campaign.
“I don’t think the rotations are bad, that way we all feel useful and important,” said the Spanish international.
“It also makes sure we are in a good situation to get to the end of all the competitions in better condition.
“In the end what matters is what the coach says and we have to execute it in the best way possible.”
Barca’s attention now turns to another meeting with Atletico in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie on Wednesday.
“We have an exciting few weeks ahead of us, but it is a very intense and tough tie against a difficult opponent in Atletico. We need to be at our best without committing errors.”