Newcastle v Barcelona
In the last round Newcastle had lost all three of their opening round matches but still managed to qualify for the next phase by winning the next three. It has been the same again in the second phase with Bobby Robson’s men seemingly out of the reckoning after just three games, but bouncing back to stand an outside chance of qualifying for the last eight.
Good results in Leverkusen and Milan have left Newcastle within touching distance of the quarter-finals. If Newcastle can beat Barcelona at St. James’ Park tonight and Inter fail to beat Bayer Leverkusen, Robson will see his team progress at the expense of the Italians.
Newcastle midfielder Kieron Dyer believes that Leverkusen could upset the odds and get at least a point from Inter Milan.
“I’ve got a feeling that Leverkusen might just be able to get the draw and then it is all up to us,” said Dyer.
Newcastle will be without the influential Welshman Gary Speed, who has a groin injury. But with Kieron Dyer and Laurent Robert back in the side, and Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer very much in-form, a repeat of the first round could well be on the cards.
Barcelona who have already won the group are set to play a somewhat weakened team at St. James’ Park tonight.
Many of Barcelona’s established stars will not play, instead they will be rested, and fringe players given a chance to show Antic what they can do.
The main players missing will be Patrick Kluivert, Javier Saviola, Frank De Boer and Juan Riquelme.
Barcelona will definitely be without injured players Luis Enrique and Phillip Cocu who have both had long lay offs. Carles Puyol is also set to miss the clash with a broken cheekbone.
Returning from injury though will be Gerard Lopez after two months out. Coach Antic is also set to hand a debut to young striker Sergio Garcia De La Fuente.
Antic, who played in England for Luton Town in the 1980s, is looking forward to returning to the country and described the game as ‘something very special’.
The last game between the two sides at St. James’ Park ended in a 3-2 win for the Magpies with the brilliant Faustino Asprilla scoring one of the best hat-tricks in Champions League history, so fireworks can be expected tonight.
: Shay Given, Aaron Hughes, Titus Bramble, Andy O’Brien, Olivier Bernard, Nolberto Solano, Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas, Laurent Robert, Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy.
Barcelona: Victor Valdes, Gabri, Oleguer Presas, Patrik Andersson, Michael Reiziger, Gaizka Mendieta, Xavi, Thiago Motta, Andres Iniesta, Patrick Kluivert, Sergio Garcia
Bayer Leverkusen v Internazionale
Although their Champion’s League future is very much in their own hands, Inter will be slightly apprehensive about a tricky-looking tie in Germany.
Hector Cuper’s side will have to face Leverkusen without their most influential player Christian Vieri who is serving a ban. Add to that the suspension of AlvaroRecoba and the injuries to Mohamed Kallon, Luigi Di Biagio and Christian Zanetti, and tonight’s game becomes a real test of Cuper’s side.
Cuper nevertheless is upbeat about his side’s chances and approaches the game with a real sense of optimism.
“We have got everything in our own hands,” said the coach, “I have total trust in my players and I am sure that we will get the win. I do however believe that Leverkusen will put up a fight.”
Returning for Inter should be Argentinean goal scorer Hernan Crespo, who has been out since January with a thigh injury. He already has nine Champions League goals to his name this season and if picked, will look to add to that impressive tally tonight.
If Crespo is declared unfit, young Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins will start the game. The 18-year-old was called into the full Nigerian squad yesterday after a string of excellent displays for Inter, and will be favourite to start the game.
Leverkusen will go into tonight’s game with Inter knowing that if they fail to get a point, they will end the second phase without a point.
After last years heroics in the Champions League, Leverkusen, who recently sacked coach Klaus Toppmoller, have found this season a different story, and will want to restore some pride in tonight’s game.
Coach Horster will however rest many of his star names tonight in an effort to keep players fit for their relegation battle in the Bundesliga.
Players rested will be Carsten Ramelow, Oliver Neuville, Hanno Balitsch and Bernd Schneider. Horster will also omit Dimitar Berbatov and Juan who have slight niggling injuries.
Leverkusen: Hans-Joerg Butt, Boris Zivkovic, Thomas Kleine, Cris, Pascal Ojigwe, Radoslav Kaluzny, Yildiray Basturk, Jan Simak, Thomas Brdaric, Franca, Dimitar Berbatov.
Inter: Francesco Toldo, Javier Zanetti, Ivan Cordoba, Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Coco, Sergio Conceicao, Luigi Di Biagio, Cristiano Zanetti, Emre Belozoglu, Domenico Morfeo, Obafemi Martins.