“This is the Champions League, and there are players coming back from injury, others that don’t get to play as much, and it’s important for the team and our image. We’ll give it one hundred per cent, knowing that Benfica are fighting for qualification.” ~ Adriano
Good morning, Blaugrana Nois – well rested, I trust? Well, you should be, given that your little heads were resting on feather pillows, and your bodies were cocooned between 100 thread count cotton sheets and silken duvets as you slumbered in your slovenly team camp last night.
While Barça has already qualified and Spartak Moscow is out of contention, the 2nd qualifying spot is up for grabs depending on both of tonight’s Group G match results.
Benfica and Celtic are equal on 7 points each, with Benfica leading in the head-to-head analysis. For Celtic to qualify, they must finish tonight’s home game against Spartak Moscow with 1 point more than Benfica, otherwise the Portuguese team is through to the knock-out stages. Celtic Park will be fully-charged tonight.
Welcome to the Hotel Barcelona
Coach Jorge Jesus arrived last night with his Eagles
band team bereft of all its usual mid-field starters. Injured Argentine players Enzo Pérez, Pablo Aimar and Eduardo Salvio join hamstrung Portuguese Carlos Martins in front of the TV back in Lisbon.
However, Jesus remains upbeat, demanding that his team gives a better performance than the first home game against the Blaugrana, while claiming that Benfica could “surprise” the home team at Camp Nou. He always looks on the bright side of life.
Benfica’s travelling squad is:
Goalkeepers: Artur Moraes, Paulo Lopes and Bruno Varela.
Defenders: Garay, Maxi Pereira, Melgarejo, Luisão, Miguel Vitor, Luisinho and Jardel.
Midfielders: Matic, César, Almeida, Nolito, Ola John, André Gomes and Gaitán.
Forwards: Cardozo, Lima and Rodrigo.
At this rate, we might get to see Nolito play. Bruno César and André Almeida are both one card away from suspension.
The team is fully rested having played their last game over 10 days ago; a Primeira Liga home game against Olhanense which they won 2-0. They have won their last 7 games, last losing 2-0 on October 23rd against Spartak Moscow.
November was successful for the club, with the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (only the Germans could come up with a name that long), naming Benfica as the best team in the world for the month, as they won all 6 games in which they played.
Tito’s Press Conference
“This Tuesday’s training session was fantastic. It’s an important match. We represent FC Barcelona and we have to play at a high level.”
“I haven’t had to motivate the players because they’re professionals and it’s part of their job. It’s a home game in the Champions League and we have players who are freshly returned from injuries. They will profit from playing, along with players from the B team who can prove themselves against Benfica.”
“The team that we’ll field tomorrow will be designed to win the match.”
“We’re very pleased with the team’s current form but we can’t stay here. If we can improve certain aspects of our play, then we have to do it. Every big team struggles to find its best form at the beginning of the season. It seems we’ve found ours and, little by little, we’re recovering our (injured) players.”
“These players are very eager to win. They are as eager now as they were five years ago, when I saw them for the first time.”
How many coaches can actually comment on training sessions being “fantastic”? Tito can, apparently.
If you need to fall asleep, here are 23 minutes of that training session which was initially open to the media, before it got too serious to show what really goes on behind closed pitch doors. However, there is some Awesome Abidal Action, so it may be worth having a squizz:
The Barça Line-up
Six First Team players are being rested: Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Cesc and Alba. Mascherano and Pedro are both one card from suspension, so sitting them out has a double-advantage.
The squad is: Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Puyol, Villa, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Busquets, Montoya, Adriano and Song joined by B team players Sergi Gómez, Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu, Planas, Rafinha and Tello.
If Tito is serious about being serious, I would seriously expect the line-up to be:
Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Adriano
Thiago, Busquets, Sergi Roberto
Tello, Messi, Villa
Perhaps Pinto will get the nod for net duty. No whistling if you do, you naughty man.
Song is also one card away from suspension.
If the game goes well, subs could be Sergi Gómez or Planas at the back with Rafinha or Dos Santos in mid-field, and another helping of Deulofeu.
Oh yeah – that Messi guy
Messi asked to be included in the squad to play, as he is soooo close to equalling/beating Gerd Müller’s record.
With tough games coming up against Real Betis and Atlético Madrid, reason would say to rest him, but the chance to achieve the record in the home estadi is too much of a temptation.
Also, a certain #7 pulled ahead in the CL Leading Scorer stats last night, so there is a wrong to put right.
Before facing the press yesterday, Barça team members must have had a joint script rehearsal for they had this to say about Messi:
“If he scores, so much the better. We all want him to beat a record that has stood for 40 years, and want to help to make that happen for him. But it would be best if he plays as he normally does, and doesn’t get obsessed with it. What it shows is that he’s getting better with each game, and with each season.” ~Adriano
“We have to be as natural about this as possible. Messi has the chance to beat the record, but it will be more difficult if we’re all focused on him. However, I think he’s used to the pressure.” ~ Tito Vilanova
“It’s one of those things that get you excited, because it’s such an old record. But we shouldn’t be focusing on that, because that will actually make it harder for him to score. Messi has to relax.” ~ Piqué
These are a few of My Favourite Streams
Calvin is unable to Live Blog the game due to work commitments, so this post will also serve as a Match Comments depository. Go ahead, vent all you like.
The game starts tonight at 8:45pm CET.
Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: FC Barcelona vs. Sporting Benfica