Tuesday 12 December 2017

Henry out of favour at Nou Camp

Euro Zone

Pete Jenson

THE injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic that has ruled him out of tomorrow’s second-leg Champions League quarter-final with Arsenal is unlikely to hand Thierry Henry a starting berth as doubts continue to be cast over whether the Frenchman will ever start a game for Barcelona again.

Henry has been criticised for his behaviour in London last week and coach Pep Guardiola left him in the stand when he named his team to face Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. The injury sustained by Ibrahimovic in the warm-up meant Henry did finally take a place on the bench but it was the 19-year-old striker, Bojan Krkic, who took Ibrahimovic’s place on the pitch, scored twice in a 4-1 La Liga win and is expected to be preferred to the outcast Henry.

Critics were unhappy with the way they perceived the Frenchman allowed his warm-up ahead of his second-half introduction at the Emirates to be disturbed with handshakes and smiles to old Arsenal acquaintances. He was also blamed for the Gunners’ second goal, having given the ball away ahead of Carles Puyol’s foul on Cesc Fabregas for the penalty, and was slated for his decision to remain in the centre-circle at the end of the game to applaud home supporters while his devastated team-mates disappeared down the tunnel, having thrown away a two-goal lead for the first time in over a year’s football.

Henry’s problems preceded the first leg. He has started just 14 games all season, scoring only three goals, and was taken off at half-time the last time he started, a fortnight ago against Osasuna. He started the next game, away to Mallorca, in the stand, and would have watched Saturday’s win from there too had it not been for Ibrahimovic’s knock.

Guardiola admitted earlier in the season: “We need him to actually want to play and show the same ambition that made him a great player.”

And those close to the Barca coach suggest Henry’s second-half cameo at the Emirates that ended with Arsenal equalising was the striker’s last chance.

Whether circumstances now force a change in that attitude will depend largely on the confidence Guardiola has in Bojan. “I am as happy as anyone when he scores. He will always get goals. When he plays, he scores,” said the Barcelona boss.

It was Bojan’s 30th goal in three seasons for Barcelona. He exploded onto the scene under Frank Rijkaard in his first campaign but was given limited starts last season and has been overtaken this campaign by Pedro.

He did his chances of starting against Arsenal no harm against Bilbao in a game once more marked by contributions from youth team products. All four goals came from home-grown players, with Jeffren turning in Eric Abidal’s cross at the far post for the first before Bojan’s double. Leo Messi then scored the fourth with his 26th goal of the season, drawing him level with Wayne Rooney in the race for this season’s Golden Boot.

Apart from Ibrahimovic’s injury there was little to encourage any watching Arsenal supporters. Messi had shown his human side in the first half, missing from five yards out, but his secondhalf strike and an assist for Bojan’s second goal made amends.

Abidal returned at left-back, where he is likely to stay as Barca look to cope with the threat of Theo Walcott, and Guardiola was able to rest up to six players who will start tomorrow night.

Full-back Dani Alves was suspended, midfielders Seydou Keita and Xavi were rested along with Barcelona’s likely emergency central defensive partnership of Gabi Milito and Rafa Marquez. Ibrahimovic was joined on Barca’s injury list yesterday by Yaya Toure with a knock on his ankle and Jeffren with a thigh strain, but both are likely to be fit for selection against Arsenal.

In-form strike duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain earned Real Madrid their 12th successive league win and ensured

Manuel Pellegrini’s side will start next weekend’s crunch showdown with Barcelona in top spot. For the third successive round of games, Madrid had been provisionally knocked off the summit by second-placed Barca winning 24 hours previously, but the capital club responded again with a hardfought victory over lowly Racing.

It was far from comfortable for Madrid, but Ronaldo’s successful 24th-minute penalty after the Portugal international had been brought down in the area put the visitors on course and Higuain sealed the win 14 minutes from time.

Guti struck the woodwork from the edge of the box and Ronaldo contrived to volley over from six yards out with the goal at his mercy, but the hard work had been done and big-spending Real return to pole position in the title race Ronaldo’s goal was his 18th in La Liga this season, while Real’s leading scorer Higuain moved onto 24 – just two behind Messi at the top of the Primera Division charts.

Inter slip into cruise control

INTER MILAN cruised to a comfortable victory at the San Siro to bounce back from last week’s defeat at Roma and retain their lead at the top of Serie A. A fine strike from midfielder Thiago Motta had put the Nerazzurri a goal to the good at the break before Mario Balotelli marked his return to the squad by adding the second, and Motta sealed the win with his second late on.

Last week’s defeat in Rome had left Jose Mourinho’s side with a one-point lead at the top of the table, and their build-up had not been helped by the former Chelsea boss claiming he does not enjoy managing in Italy and a terse statement that he released criticising the media, which added fuel to rumours that he will leave the club in the summer.

But all off-field speculation was put to one side as Inter completely dominated.

Bayern prepare for United by going back on top

BAYERN MUNICH will arrive in Manchester tomorrow for their Champions League quarter-final second-leg full of confidence after going back to the top of the Bundesliga with a 2-1 win over Schalke 04.

Franck Ribery was on the scoresheet for the second time in four days as Bayern leapfrogged their rivals with the win in Gelsenkirchen. Thomas Muller also scored for Bayern, who rested Arjen Robben in the hope that four more days of recuperation will enable the former Chelsea winger to play some part in Wednesday’s second leg.

“This could be a beautiful year for us,” said Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness of his side’s chances of completing the league, domestic cup and Champions League treble.

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