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Barcelona aim to regain lost spark
Simon Baskett | February 20, 2007 10:42 IST
Barcelona will need to recapture the form that saw them win last season's competition if they are to beat their predecessors as European champions when they host Liverpool on Wednesday.
Liverpool's preparations have been overshadowed by reports of drunken misbehaviour at a pre-match training camp in Portugal with Craig Bellamy possibly facing an 80,000 pounds ($156,300) fine after an altercation with team mate John Arne Riise.
Coach Rafa Benitez met the squad on Sunday and in a statement on Liverpool's Web site (www.liverpoolfc.tv) "made it absolutely clear to all of them the responsibilities that come with playing for this club and the way they are expected to conduct themselves both on and off the pitch.
"The players worked extremely hard at last week's training camp, but we will take disciplinary action and fine any of them who are found to have breached club rules during our stay in Portugal," he said after their Algarve trip.
He could have done without such a diversion before facing Barca in the biggest match of Liverpool's season so far.
The Catalans, who finished behind Chelsea in the group stage, have been a shadow of the side that carried all before them last year as seen in their comprehensive 2-1 defeat at the hands of title rivals Valencia on Sunday.
Despite dominating possession, Frank Rijkaard's men proved vulnerable to Valencia's high-speed counter-attacks and struggled to break down their well-organised defence.
"We wanted to play our usual style of football but we just weren't able to score," said Rijkaard. "It's good for Wednesday, though, as it reminds us that we can't relax against Liverpool.
"If you haven't won your last game then you have to win your next one."
With livewire Argentine forward Lionel Messi still finding his rhythm after a three-month layoff and leading striker Samuel Eto'o unwilling to take risks as he bids to regain fitness after knee surgery, Barca have lost much of their pace and spark.
Instead, they have come to rely on the individual brilliance of Ronaldinho to carry them through matches, although when the Brazilian's magic deserts him the team have faltered.
Their record against Liverpool does not bode well for the last 16 clash.
Barcelona have won just one of their previous six European encounters against the Merseysiders and have never beaten Liverpool, or even scored against them, in three matches at the Nou Camp dating back to 1976.
However, the immediate future is what concerns both clubs on and off the pitch.
Dissent in the ranks at the Nou Camp last week with Eto'o and Rijkaard having words was nothing compared with that at Liverpool but Benitez, being a pragmatist, will field his best side with Bellamy and Riise both expected to play.
Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 11-Gianluca Zambrotta, 5-Carles Puyol, 15-Edmilson, 12-Giovanni van Bronckhorst; 4-Rafael Marquez, 6-Xavi or 24-Andres Iniesta, 20-Deco; 19-Lionel Messi, 10-Ronaldinho, 22-Javier Saviola
25-Pepe Reina; 3-Steve Finnan, 23-Jamie Carragher, 5-Danny Agger, 6-John-Arne Riise; 22-Momo Sissoko 14-Xabi Alonso, 8-Steven Gerrard, 18-Dirk Kuyt, 10-Luis Garcia, 17-Craig Bellamy
Referee: Kyros Vassaras (Greece)
UEFA Champions League 2006-07: The Complete Coverage