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Champions League Previews: Barca lack sparkle; Liverpool favourites

February 18, 2019 12:03 IST

Coach Ernesto Valverde has played down the significance of his side's recent slack displays

Barcelona

IMAGE: Barcelona players huddle during the warm up. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

Despite an iron grip on domestic trophies, Barcelona have been haunted by their recent failures in the Champions League and there are concerning signs for the Catalans as they prepare for Tuesday's last-16 first leg away to Olympique Lyonnais.

Ernesto Valverde's side fly to France after an uninspiring 1-0 win at home to struggling Real Valladolid on Saturday which consolidated their lead at the top of La Liga but left plenty of doubts about their capabilities of winning Europe's top prize.

 

The drab victory over Valladolid, in which Lionel Messi scored a penalty and missed one, followed a goalless stalemate at Athletic Bilbao, a 2-2 draw with Valencia and a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in a Copa del Rey semi-final first leg.

Coach Ernesto Valverde has played down the significance of his side's recent slack displays.

"Sometimes you cannot be brilliant in every game, but I think the team is ready to play at its very best," he said.

Defender Gerard Pique, however, was more scathing of Barca's performance and warned of the potential consequences of their lacklustre displays.

"We were not the Barca we wanted to be, the result was good, the sensations were not," he said.

"We must improve on Tuesday or we will suffer a lot. If we don't move the ball quickly, dominate the play and possession or create chances, we are a weaker team."

Barca have fallen at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League each year since last winning it in 2015, suffering a particularly humiliating elimination to AS Roma last season after taking a 4-1 lead in the first leg of the tie.

They have looked on enviously as Real Madrid have won the last three editions of the big eared trophy, swelling their total number of European Cups to 13, which makes Barca's five look measly by comparison.

Despite winning three of the last four La Liga titles and collecting the Copa del Rey four years in a row, there is a widespread feeling that Barca should have fared better on the continent, especially while Messi has been at his peak.

The Argentine seems to think so too - in his first speech as captain back in August, he pledged to do "everything possible to bring that beautiful trophy back to the Nou Camp".

For that ambition to be realised, Barca must improve on a dismal away record which has seen them win only one of their last six visits in the Champions League knockout rounds, scoring three goals while conceding 13.

Barca will be boosted by the return of France's World Cup winning defender Samuel Umtiti after nearly three months out with a knee problem, while defender Thomas Vermaelen and midfielder Arthur Melo are injured.

Liverpool favourites against inconsistent Bayern, says Kimmich

Bayern Munich

IMAGE: Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich during the warm up. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke DFB/Reuters

Liverpool's Premier League form and sturdy defence make them favourites in their Champions League last-16 tie against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, according to the German club's defender Joshua Kimmich.

Liverpool are tied for the lead with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and have conceded the least number of goals, losing only once in 26 games. They have also been unbeaten at home in the league and Champions League this season.

"Liverpool are the favourites," Kimmich told reporters ahead of the first leg in Anfield. "They've lost one league game all season and have let in only 15 goals."

"When you see their style of playing, they have a really good defence and their offensive line is also amazing."

"They have a lot of speed, they have players who are tough in the duels. It won't be easy to fight against them."

Bayern have not reached a final since they last won the Champions League in 2013 against Borussia Dortmund, who were then managed by Liverpool's Juergen Klopp, and Kimmich believes they cannot be considered among Europe's elite on current form.

"When you look at us, we are not as consistent as before," Kimmich added. "We need to improve our style of playing before we can compare to the best teams in Europe."

Ribery, Boateng out of Bayern squad for Liverpool match

Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and central defender Jerome Boateng will not be available for the Germans' Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Liverpool on Tuesday, coach Niko Kovac said.

The pair were not included in the squad that left for England, with Ribery staying in Munich after becoming a father, and Boateng nursing a stomach virus, Kovac told reporters ahead of the team's departure.

The Bavarians will also have to wait until Tuesdays to determine whether winger Kingsley Coman will be able to play after picking up an ankle injury on Friday.

The Frenchman scored twice but was injured in the final stages of their 3-2 win at Augsburg.

"It has improved a bit but we have to wait longer," Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic told reporters. "We still have 36 hours until the game and a lot can happen. It is positive but we cannot says for sure (if he will play)."

The return leg in Munich is on March 13.

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