Schalke coach Mirko Slomka describes the visit of Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals as “a proud moment in the club’s history” and he has urged his players to make the most of home advantage in Tuesday’s first leg.
A penalty shoot-out win over Porto in the previous round has given Schalke the self-belief Slomka thinks they require if they are to progress further inthe competition.
“Getting past Porto has given us belief and now we’re here, we want to go on,” Slomka sid.
“Every Schalke player and supporter is proud to be part of such a prestigious game,” he continued. “Our fans give us a big advantage on these European nights and if we play with passion and maintain a high tempo, we have a great chance to beat one of the best sides in Europe.”
Schalke will be without key midfielders Jermaine Jones (suspended), Albert Streit (thigh) and Ivan Rakiti (ankle), yet Slomka is confident holding players Fabian Ernst and Levan Kobiashvili can cope with Barcelona’s attacking threat.
“We need them to be disciplined because it’s vital we don’t concede,” he said. “Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Deco are missing [through injury] but the heartbeat of the Barcelona side is the midfield and that sector remains extremely strong with Xavi Hernandez, Yaya Toure and Andres Iniesta.”
Barcelona have also received a boost with the news that Samuel Eto’o should start after recovering from the calf strain he sustained during Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at Real Betis. That was the the club’s fourth defeat in their last six domestic matches – leaving them third in the Primera Division – and coach Frank Rijkaard is looking for a marked improvement tonight.
“We have to get better quickly because we can’t afford a repeat of Saturday night against Schalke,” he said. “We’re in for a hard match against one of the best teams in Germany and hopefully that will bring the best out of the players.”
Rijkaard’s greatest concern is the number of goals his side are conceding at the moment. With this in mind he will be pleased to welcome back centre-backs Rafael Márquez and Gabriel Milito, both of whom missed the defeat at Betis.
“I feel fit and I’m keen to play,” Marquez confirmed said. “Returning in time for this match has been my target all along and I’ve been working really hard. I still have a bit of pain in my foot sometimes but I feel ready and I want to get back into action.
“I’d be happy to play centre-half or just in front of the defence if that’s what the coach decides. The important thing is to be able to start helping the team again.”
Rijkaard believes his side’s defensive problems have not been caused by individual errors, but reflect a collective dereliction of duty by his team.
“If you look at the players, you see they are all great defenders who have shown their quality in the past,” he said. “The problem is collective because you can’t point the finger at any one player. It’s up to us to resolve it as a team.”