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Rediff.com  » Sports » CLeague: Barca ready to adapt to Russian conditions

CLeague: Barca ready to adapt to Russian conditions

Last updated on: November 20, 2012 13:02 IST

CLeague: Barca ready to adapt to Russian conditions

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An artificial pitch, freezing conditions in Moscow and a wily coach who knows them all too well are some of the obstacles that stand between Group G leaders Barcelona and qualification to the last 16 on Tuesday.

The La Liga leaders take on Spartak still smarting form a shock 2-1 defeat at Celtic last time round, and have flown to Russia with all their big guns to make sure of a point that would assure their passage into the last 16.

"The artificial pitch and the cold will not be a problem or an excuse," Barca's Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas said on Monday.

"Teams in the Champions League are always dangerous, and in Russia it is always tough. It will be a difficult match but we aren't thinking we'll qualify if we get a point. We want to win.

"We always play the same way and we will have to adapt to whatever they throw at us."

Barca have nine points from four games, two ahead of Celtic in second place. Benfica have four and Spartak are bottom with three points.

Image: Barcelona players take part in a training session ahead of the Champions League match against Spartak Moscow, at the Luzhniki Stadium on Monday
Photographs: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

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'If you want to win the Champions League you have to be able to beat anyone'

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"Russian teams are now spending a lot of money and recruiting good players from around the world, and they have done a lot of good work on youth development, " Barca coach Tito Vilanova said.

"They have good players and coaches and the weather is different too. However, for now the weather conditions are good and we have played in cold conditions recently.

"If you want to win the Champions League you have to be able to beat anyone."

Spartak's Spanish boss Unai Emery is well known to Barca from his work with Almeria and Valencia in La Liga over the last few years.

Although he has a poor record against Barca, with no wins from 14 attempts, he has often run them very close with some clever tactical changes.

"We know Emery very well and he has always caused us problems," Vilanova added. "His teams are always very organised in attack and defence. There could be some surprises."

Barca have defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique back fit again, but travelled without full back Marc Bartra who damaged a muscle in training on Sunday.


Image: Barcelona's Daniel Alves at a training session at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Monday
Photographs: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

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Chelsea mull dropping Torres for Juventus match

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Chelsea could drop Fernando Torres for their Champions League clash against Juventus on Tuesday but manager Roberto Di Matteo said the holders would not be playing for a draw in Turin.

"I always said we have two strikers, Fernando and Daniel Sturridge," the Italian told reporters. "They are both fit and I will have to see how we are going to go."

Spain forward Torres has scored only once in the last seven matches and whether he plays is one of the "important decisions" Di Matteo said he had to make on team selection.

"We will not play for a draw. The attitude has to be to go out and try to win the game. My intention is to create as many problems as possible for Juventus," he added.

Defeat could put Chelsea in danger of becoming the first Champions League holders to fail to get past the group stage, while a win would put them through to the last 16.

"It's almost a knockout game a few months early and nobody wants us to be the first holders to be knocked out at the group stage," added Di Matteo ahead of the crucial Group E clash.

Chelsea have only taken two points from their last four Premier League games and Di Matteo is under pressure for the first time since taking over as coach last March.


Image: Fernando Torres
Photographs: Michael Regan/Getty Images

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'We owe ourselves a performance and anything can happen'

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After the 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, the dressing room was reportedly rocked by a row but Di Matteo said he was happy with the reaction of his players.

"It's important that we communicate with each other, and the players express themselves. I've always encouraged that," he said. "They need to have belief in themselves, and that's the most important aspect."

"That is not the first time there have been raised voices. We demand a lot from ourselves. Sometimes it is good. We all want to see a reaction.

"There was frustration on Saturday because of the result and this is normal when results don't go your way.

"We owe ourselves a performance and anything can happen (against Juventus), we've proved in the past that when it counts our players can be relied upon.

"We work together and, at the moment, we're all in it together and believe we have a good group, a good team, and are pulling together," said the Italian.

Di Matteo retains the backing of his players, according to England defender Gary Cahill.

"From last year, when he took the job, he did tremendously well and achieved such a lot in a short space of time," Cahill told reporters.

"We started the campaign really well. We're all behind him and he's definitely the right man. He proved it last year and I'm sure he will prove it this year as well."

With captain John Terry injured, Di Matteo must decide whether to play David Luiz or Branislav Ivanovic alongside Cahill in central defence, while Ashley Cole is available at left back after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Image: Roberto Di Matteo
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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Manchester United rest big names for Turkey trip

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Manchester United, assured of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages, will rest a number of senior players for Tuesday's Group H clash with Galatasaray in Istanbul, the Premier League club said.

Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David De Gea and Robin van Persie will all remain in Manchester, United said on their website (www.manutd.com) on Monday.

Manager Alex Ferguson's squad includes seven players yet to play in the competition.

Meanwhile, United's Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa has been ruled out for another four weeks after making slow progress following a knee injury, Ferguson said on Monday.

Kagawa was expected to be sidelined for up to a month after picking up the problem in the October 23 victory over Braga in the Champions League but Ferguson said the 23-year-old's recovery had been slower than expected.

"He's not started any outside work and we're looking at another four weeks away, which is disappointing," he said     ahead of Tuesday's Group H clash with Galatasaray.

"Originally we thought three or four weeks -- now it looks like seven or eight weeks," Ferguson added on United's website (www.manutd.com).

Image: Alex Ferguson


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Phil Jones likely to start for United

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However, United's England defender Phil Jones is expected to start against Galatasaray after recovering from a knee operation and a back injury which have kept him out so far this season.

"It's a big day for Phil Jones," said Ferguson.

"He's been out all season but he's done enough training now to make sure his fitness is okay. I'm looking forward to bringing him back."

"Phil's had different types of injuries (at United). He had concussion, he had a rib injury... but he's young so he's still to develop physically in terms of his body. He's only 20 years of age so there's plenty of time for him."

United's squad includes seven players yet to feature in the competition but Ferguson is sure they won't let United down.

"We don't consider the young players a gamble," he added. "What we do consider is our reputation and we have to be fair to the other teams in the group."

United, with a maximum 12 points from four games, have reached the last 16 with two games to spare. Galatasaray and CFR Cluj have four points with Braga bottom of the group on three.

Image: Phil Jones
Photographs: Phil Noble / Reuters

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'Bayern braced for mini-final in Valencia'

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Bayern Munich are treating their clash with joint Group F pacesetters Valencia like a final given a berth in the Champions League last 16 is up for grabs, Javi Martinez said on Monday.

Last year's finalists travel to the Mestalla with nine points from four games, but having beaten Valencia 2-1 earlier in the campaign the Germans would assure themselves qualification with another win.

"Both teams will be going for it," Bayern's Spain midfielder Martinez said.

"We are in a position where by winning we qualify for the next round. It is like a mini-final for the Group.

"The Mestalla is a tough stadium. Whenever I went there with Athletic Bilbao we always had problems. But now I am arriving with Bayern it is a different story."

Martinez, who has winners medals from the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, was signed for a German record 40 million euros from Bilbao in August but has been used sparingly by his coach Jupp Heynckes.

"When I arrived at Bayern, one of the first things I did was meet with Heynckes and plan the season," the versatile 24-year-old added.

Image: Bayern Munich's players warm up during a training session in Valencia on Monday
Photographs: Heino Kalis / Reuters

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Heynckes non-committal over Ribery's fitness

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"With Bilbao last season I played more than 60 games and over the summer I only had nine days holiday after Euro 2012 and the London Olympics.

"We decided to take it one step at a time. It would have been madness to play me in every game, because I would have been destroyed after two months."

Heynckes said he was satisfied with Martinez's progress.

"I am pleased and his colleagues are too. They expect him to be a 'top' player very soon.

"Team captain Philipp Lahm told me 'this is just the player we needed.'"

Bayern have a doubt over France winger Franck Ribery, who has bruised ribs, but Heynckes gave little away.

"I hope that he can come through a full training session today," he said.

"If that's the case, then he will definitely play tomorrow."

Image: Bayern Munich's coach Jupp Heynckes
Photographs: Heino Kalis / Reuters

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