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 < whether that be mentally or physically will be rested on Tuesday," he confirmed. "The Bundesliga is simply to important to us."
The injured Diego Placente and tired Bernd Schneider are expected to miss out, while skipper Carsten Ramelow has already been told that he will be given the night off, after fans booed him at the weekend. Lucio and Nowotny are also out injured.
Newcastle are without their first-choice strike partnership Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer due to suspensions. However, with Lua Lua, Ameobi annd Cort vying for places, Robson seems unconcerned.
"I am very confident with all my three strikers," said Robson.
"When we first bought Carl Cort just over two years ago from Wimbledon (FC), he was magnificent in the early stages," Robson stated. "He has been plagued by injuries but he is over them now. Carl is in the squad and he's ready to play while Shola Ameobi has done well when we have asked him to do a job in the past and Lua Lua has been on fire in training."
Nolberto Solano is missing due to a thigh strain, but Gary Speed returns to central midfield. Hugo Viana is still injured but the Portuguese youngster has returned to training. Confidence is high within the Newcastle camp and the omens for tonight's game are good.
Their recent good run has seen them emerge as a decent outside bet for the Premier League, and with newly-appointed Leverkusen coach Hoerster more concerned with domestic matters, Newcastle could not have picked a better time to play last season's runners-up.
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.