Tuesday 21 November 2017

Barca in need of Messi inspiration

Paul Logothetis

Barcelona will be relying on Lionel Messi's impressive scoring form to keep their Champions League dreams alive against Stuttgart tonight in the second leg of the first knockout round.

Barcelona's 1-1 draw in the first leg three weeks ago has been followed by some indifferent form leaving the European champions to rely on Messi, who has scored their last six league goals, to keep the team at the top of the standings with Real Madrid.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hasn't scored since the match against Stuttgart, while Thierry Henry has only three goals this season.

"When things don't work out, it's because the coach hasn't done his job well. Tomorrow we'll look to get back to doing it right," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "What's important is to recover those previous sensations. If we play a first half like we did the other day we're unlikely to go further."

Barcelona failed to score in a difficult first half against Valencia at the weekend before Messi hit a hat-trick in the second half at the Camp Nou. Guardiola has moved Messi, who has scored 29 goals in all competitions, from the right wing to a more central position in recent matches and the playmaker has looked more like a striker as a result.

"The objective at the end is that all of our attacking players get involved," the Catalan coach said.

That includes Henry, whose impressive display in Sunday's 3-0 win showed the France striker still has something to offer this season.

"He needs to do better," said Guardiola. "We've also asked him to play in a position where he is uncomfortable and after last year's explosion, he's finding it more difficult this season.

"But when you have so many good players in your team, you have to play them, regardless of the position."

Stuttgart coach Christian Gross hopes his team sticks to a disciplined game plan. "There's not only Messi. With Barcelona, it's constant danger -- they defend well. In one-on-ones, it's very difficult to stop them," Gross said. "We need to resist all facets of their game, not just Messi."


Barcelona have beaten German opponents eight straight times at the Camp Nou, and have won 15 times after an away-leg draw. Stuttgart has never progressed past this phase and lost 3-1 on its previous visit to Barcelona in 2007.

Barcelona will not take Stuttgart lightly, especially after a home loss to Russian club Rubin Kazan earlier this season, and after big-spending Real Madrid were knocked out of Europe's top-tier competition last week by Lyon.

"Sure it's a warning," Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "(But) we just have to be ourselves. Keep the ball, play our triangle system, pressure high and create chances."

Only captain Carles Puyol is a doubt after he missed Sunday's win over Valencia with back pain. Midfielder Seydou Keita remains sidelined by a leg injury.

Gross was "optimistic" as Stuttgart hope to be the first German team since Bayern Munich 12 years ago to win at the Camp Nou. "We know we won't have many opportunities, so we have to take advantage of the ones we have to have any chance," Gross said.

Stuttgart will look to striker Cacau, who scored in the first leg, to provide that spark. Stuttgart dominated the first half of the opening leg, but saves by Victor Valdes and missed opportunities may now prove decisive.

"I think we can take some confidence into the game from that first half," Stuttgart goalkeeper Jens Lehman said.

Barcelona v Stuttgart, Live, RTE 2, ITV1, 7.45

Irish Independent

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