Barca looks to bounce back in Champions League

Updated 19 November 2012
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Barca looks to bounce back in Champions League

LONDON: Humbled by Celtic in the latest shock result in the Champions League, competition favorite Barcelona attempts for the second time to seal a place in the knockout stage in Russia.
The Champions League has thrown up a string of unpredictable scorelines this season and none bigger than Barca’s 2-1 loss in Glasgow two weeks ago, preventing the Spanish giants joining FC Porto, Malaga and Manchester United in the last 16 with two games to spare.
Lionel Messi and his team still need one more victory to advance in Group G but achieving that at Spartak Moscow today is far from guaranteed, given that Barcelona has only won once in six trips to Russia.
“We must not drop our guard or relax,” Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta. “Up to this point, our start to the season has been sustained and sensational. But we must continue as we’ve begun.”
While Barcelona is still a big favorite to progress, the same can’t be said of a number of Europe’s big guns.
Manchester City has been on the cusp of elimination for a month now and the fate of the English champions, who are bottom of Group D on just two points from four games, will be sealed if they fail to beat Real Madrid at home Wednesday in the most high-profile clash of the fifth round of group games.
A win for Madrid would likely take it through, although Jose Mourinho’s side is also stumbling after picking up just one point from its double-header with silky German side Borussia Dortmund.
“We will play with practically our season on the line,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. “As a football player, those are the kind of games you live for.”
Dortmund is the group leader and needs only a point at Ajax to advance.
Chelsea is engaged in a tough three-way fight for the two qualification spots in Group E, and a loss in Juventus on Tuesday will leave the holders’ destiny out of their hands. Only one point separates Chelsea, Juventus and group leader Shakhtar Donetsk, which could qualify with a win at FC Nordsjaelland.
AC Milan needs a win in Anderlecht tomorrow if the struggling Italian side isn’t to face the serious prospect of elimination from Group C, while the winner of Tuesday’s match between Valencia and last season’s runner-up Bayern Munich will qualify in Group F.

Paris Saint-Germain requires just a point at Dynamo Kiev to join FC Porto in the next round from Group A, while Schalke and Arsenal will qualify from Group B if they beat Olympiakos and Montpellier, respectively.
Messi, the prolific Argentina forward, has tried to make Barcelona forget about its disappointment in Scotland by maintaining his remarkable run of scoring form.
His double in the 3-1 win at Real Zaragoza on Saturday took his 2012 tally to 78 in 2012, moving within seven of former Germany striker Gerd Mueller’s all-time record of goals in a calendar year, set in 1972. Last week, Messi scored another double to move past Pele into second place (75 goals in 1958).
However, coach Tito Vilanova has made a point of saying his squad’s success is more down to teamwork than the individual brilliance of its star player.
“We need all of our players, because just one man can’t win you the match,” Vilanova said.
Barca has already spoken of Messi’s hunger to beat Raul Gonzalez’s tally of 71 goals as the all-time highest scorer in the Champions League. Currently, Messi is third with 54, behind Ruud van Nistelrooy (56).
Vilanova welcomed back the central-defensive pairing of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol at the weekend, which should shore up a back line that looked exposed against Celtic.
A stoppage-time winner in a 3-2 victory over Shakhtar kept Chelsea in contention last time out, but there remains the genuine possibility that the English team could become he first reigning champion to fail to make the knockout stage.
The Blues are in their first rut of the campaign, having won just two points from their last four Premier League games.
“We’ve been in this position before. For some reason, November for our club is a bad month and it seems to again be the case this year,” Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo said. “We have to try and address that.”


What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

Updated 19 April 2018
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What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

  • Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
  • Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.

Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.

 



AL-HILAL

Finished: Champions

Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.

Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.

Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League

 



AL-AHLI

Finished: Second

Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.

Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.

Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.


 
AL-NASSR

Finished: Third

Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.

Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.

Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into  the 2019 AFC Champions League.

 


AL-ITTIHAD

Finished: Ninth

Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.

Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.

Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.