Barcelona v Internazionale
Sunday’s win over local rivals Espanyol, eased Barcelona’s relegation concerns and enabled Antic to concentrate on tonight’s vital tie between Group A’s two unbeaten sides.
Barcelona and Inter have both recorded wins over Newcastle and Bayer Leverkusen and Antic believes whichever team winsthis Group A game will be “almost mathematically certain” of reaching the quarter-finals.
Barcelona’s disappointing domestic form has been in stark contrast to their performances in Europe this season. Ten successive wins – a Champions League record – has left them well placed to reach the knock-out stages.
Likewise Inter, who under the shrewd stewardship of coach Hector Cuper, look equipped to sustain a challenge both at home and abroad. Their recent form offers contradictory evidence: wins against Modena, Empoli, Torino and Reggina, sandwiched between defeats to Perugia and Chievo.
Michael Reiziger is set to move across to the left-back spot as new signing, Juan Pablo Sorin is not eligible for the Champions League, Gabri will slot in on the right. Luis Enrique is back in the squad after almost three-months out with tendonitis, but he is unlikely to start tonight.
Equally, Patrick Andersson, who has been out for eight months, may have to settle for a place on the bench. For Inter, centre-back Materazzi joins a growing injury list that includes Crespo, Almeyda, Emre, Adani and Vivas. Fabio Cannavaro is running a temperature but is expected to play.
The most significant Inter absentee is striker Hernan Crespo, the competition’s joint leading scorer this season with nine goals, who has a thigh injury and is still several weeks away from full fitness.
“He was the star of the Champions League before Christmas,” said Cuper. “What I hope and pray is that his absence does not have a negative psychological effect on us.”
Barcelona: Bonano, Gabri, Puyol, Frank De Boer, Reiziger, Cocu, Xavi, Overmars, Mendieta, Saviola, Kluivert
Inter: Toldo; Javier Zanetti, Cannavaro, Cordoba, Pasquale or Coco; Sergio Conceicao, Di Biagio, Okan, Morfeo; Recoba, Vieri.
Leverkusen v Newcastle
Defeats in their opening two matches appear to have condemned Newcastle to elimination but this is the team that lost their opening three matches of the first phase and stillqualified, so nothing can be taken for granted.
In contrast to the experienced Robson, this will be Thomas Hoerster’s first match in charge of Leverkusen since replacing Klaus Toppmoller at the weekend. Toppmoller was sacked at the weekend after Leverkusen’s defeat to Hansa Rostock, plunged the club deeper into the relegation dogfight.
Hoerster has already confirmed that Bundesliga survival is his priority and consequently he will not be fielding his strongest team against Newcastle.
“Whoever is in need of a break Probable teams:
Leverkusen: Butt – Zivkovic, Cris, Kleine, Ojigwe – Balitsch, Kaluzny – Babic, Basturk, Bierofka – Franca
Newcastle:Given, Hughes, O’Brien, Dabizas, Bernard; Dyer, Speed, Jenas, Robert, Ameobi, LuaLua.