UEFA Champions League: Barcelona To Bounce Back, Or Panathinaikos To Bow Down?
Barcelona will use their vital game against Greek side Panathinaikos in the UEFA Champions League as a way to kick off their campaign in Europe on a positive note.
Yet from a deeper prospect, this match at the Camp Nou will also show if the Spanish giants have bounced back from Saturday’s La Liga defeat or not. Both sides were in action at the weekend, and while Barcelona faced newly-promoted side Hercules CF in La Liga, Panathinaikos fought against Aris Thessaloniki FC. Below is a brief recap of both matches.
It was the Catalans’ first home defeat since their Copa del Rey exit earlier this year in January. Looking at the fixture on Saturday, the majority of the game followers had picked the hosts as the clear favorites; but predictions were soon objected by the visitors’ surprise. Two goals from Hercules’ Nelson Valdez hence handed the lowly club a historical 2-0 defeat over a well-formed Barcelona side containing the likes of David Villa, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Javier Mascherano.
Just as the away side, Aris Thessaloniki were also preparing for their next mission in Europe; however, after the end of proceedings, it was Panathinaikos who got the favor. All of this was due to a winning penalty converted by Djibril Cissé on 43 minutes, which eventually gave the triumph to a side that had made four huge changes, including the debut entry of former Liverpool striker Luis Garcia.
Ahead of their Champions League opener against the Greek titans, Barcelona refuse to allow their psychology to be weakened by any unbeneficial anticipation. Speaking to El Mundo Deportivo, No.7 striker David Villa explained how the Catalan team had left their blow against Hercules in the past with their eyes now set on their subsequent challenge.
"It's already forgotten (the loss in La Liga),” he declared. “We need to analyze the things that we did badly so that they don't happen again in the future.''
Villa also spoke directly about the Panathinaikos match, emphasizing on the contest’s reduced liberty caused by the Champions League’s complexity. He said: “The first thing is to defeat Panathinaikos. It's important to start well because the group phase (of the Champions League) is not like a regular league. There are a lot less games and a slip can really complicate things.”
Coach Guardiola also gave his opinion on the demanding match, going further into details as for his beliefs and the strategy applied. In a pre-match discussion with the press available on UEFA.com, the former European title winner first talked about Saturday’s upset, before landing on the main topic.
“The team wants to carry on winning, they are upset about losing,” he stated. “The day they don't get upset, then we will change half the team or I will leave. I can make life difficult for them, but I can never doubt them.
“(Against Panathinaikos) I expect the strongest possible opposition, as usual. I don't know if they will come to attack, defend or counterattack, but Panathinaikos are a club with a great history in the Greek league, with lots of experienced players. I imagine they are more defensive away from home than in Athens (at home), but it is vital to win the Champions League home games. We (Barcelona) want to get back to our best.”
Nevertheless, Coach Nikos Nioplias of Panathinaikos preferred to praise his opponents and accept their greatness. Surreptitiously revealing his lack of belief in his men, the manager affirmed that defeating the 2009 cup lifters was not his priority right now, since a qualification into the knockout phase was what really mattered.
“It is a great moment for the fans as well as for the team,” he was quoted saying by the Union of European Football Association’s official website. “Everyone knows Barcelona, and everyone is amazed by their team… by the football they play… so there's not much more to say there.
“They are very strong and after losing a game they are even stronger; so surprises can always happen. Barcelona can lose a match but the best team will always finish top of the group.
“In a league you can see which team is the best and I can see Barcelona being the better side tomorrow and favorites for the title. Our rivals are the other teams in our group, not Barcelona. Tomorrow we can draw, win, or lose; but the important thing is the outcome of the group. I have never said we need a miracle.”
Barcelona’s Jeffrén will miss the Champions League opener with an injury in his left leg obtained earlier this month. Carles Puyol, who is yet to be in action this season, is still a doubt. The work is thus expected to be made by the hosts’ fit players among which are David Villa, Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, and a host of other regular starters.
Panathinaikos’ Giourkas Seitaridis, Antonis Petropoulos, Giorgos Karagounis, and Nikos Spyropoulos are all affected by injuries. Their absences could cost much to an already-discouraged team, but the Greeks still have a powerful man to rely on: Luis Garcia. The former Liverpool superstar began his footballing career at the famous La Masia, Barcelona’s academy, along with several Blaugrana players who will start on Tuesday night.