One point would be enough to send the Catalans into the last sixteen of the Champions League and would also guarantee that they finish top of Group E.
With the joy of a 4-0 triumph at Real Madrid still fresh in the memory, FC Barcelona return to the Camp Nou for Champions League action on Tuesday night at 8.45pm CET. The visitors are AS Roma, and a single point would be enough to not only ensure that the Catalans go through to the last sixteen, but would also guarantee that they finish top of Group E and will be seeded for the second round draw.
Javier Mascherano took a blow in the thigh in a clash with James Rodriguez on Saturday and was replaced by Jeremy Mathieu. He hasn’t trained since and Luis Enrique has left him out of the team “because he is a key player for us and we don’t want to take any risks.” As for Leo Messi, the Barça manager reiterated that the Argentinian is fully fit and needs “playing time in his legs and to charge his batteries.” Whether that playing time includes 90 minutes against Roma was, however, something he preferred not to discuss, but Messi is in the squad, as is Barça B’s Sergi Samper. However, there are no places for Sandro Ramírez and Jordi Masip or the injured Douglas and Rafinha.
With striker Gervinho unavailable after picking up a thigh strain on duty for Ivory Coast, there had been hope in the Italian capital that Francesco Totti would be fit in time for this one. But it doesn’t look like that is going to be the case, while winger Mohamed Salah is also out with an ankle injury sustained in the derby win against Lazio, and Daniele De Rossi remains doubtful too.
At his pre-match press conference on Monday, Luis Enrique admitted that he’ll always have a soft spot for Roma after a year in charge of the club, but that on Tuesday night all he’ll be thinking about is Barça. “It will be a very different game to the first one” he predicted. “They played it very tight at the back in Rome, while tomorrow I think we’ll see an interesting game between two top quality skilful sides … The pace of the game at the Olimpico was not what we wanted, but we played well. I hope we are just as superior tomorrow, but that this time we manage to take our chances when we get them.”
Shortly after arriving in Barcelona, Roma boss Rudi Garcia said that “we know Barça will dominate the possession, so we’ll have to organise ourselves as well as we did in the first game. I’ve always thought that if we just try to defend then we’re bound to lose. We’ll have to take all our chances … Barça are a great team, they’ve got huge players and a great manager. They’re the best team in the world.”
Barça are on form. And when Barça are on form, they are the most dangerous team in world football. They made mincemeat of the formidable Real Madrid on Saturday with an emphatic 4-0 victory that moves them six points clear of their rivals in La Liga, and four points clear of second placed Atlético. Even without Leo Messi they have just won nine out of ten games and kept a fifth consecutive clean sheet. With ten points out of a possible twelve in Champions Group E, one more against Roma would be enough to ensure qualification in first place.
With 29 goals in 13 games, Roma are the highest scoring team in Serie A this season, but they’re currently fourth in a very tight championship race – three points behind leaders Inter and one behind Napoli and Fiorentina. However, the story would be very different had they not drawn 2-2 on a rain-sodden field atBologna on Saturday night in a game Rudi Garcia described as “a parody … It wasn’t football, it was water polo with feet.” Roma are currently second in Champions League Group E with five points, but defeat at the Camp Nou would open the door for Bayer Leverkusen or BATE Borisov to move ahead of them.
The two teams first met way back in 1953 during a preseason tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, but didn’t face each other in a UEFA competition until February 2002. In the Champions League second group stage,Patrick Kluivert grabbed a late equaliser to make it 1-1 at the Camp Nou, but Fabio Capello’s Roma romped to a 3-0 win at the Olimpico. Despite that, the Italians finished third in the group, and it was Liverpool who joined the Catalans in the last eight.
Earlier this season, in only the third official meeting between the sides, Luis Suárez put Barcelona ahead after 21 minutes, but a peach of a long range strike from Florenzi levelled things just ten minutes later.
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