Monday, 28 September 2009

Barcelona face Kiev test

Striker Henry is an injury doubt with a left thigh strain [GALLO/GETTY]Coach Pep Guardiola faces injury concerns over Thierry Henry and Dmytro Chygrynskiy ahead of Barcelona's Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev, a game the Spanish champions need to win to kick-start their title defence.
Despite winning all five games to be neck and neck with Real Madrid in the domestic Liga competition, Barcelona were held 0-0 by Italian champions Inter Milan in the Champions League group play two weeks ago.
They now face the side at the top with Kiev having won their opening match against Russia's Rubin Kazan.
Another draw or a loss would put pressure on Guardiola and he could go into Tuesday's game at Camp Nou without both striker Henry and Ukraine defender Chygrynskiy, who were both injured in Saturday's victory at Malaga in La Liga.
Injury woes
Henry is a doubtful starter with a left thigh injury while Chygrynskiy, signed from Uefa Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk on the final day of the transfer window, has knee ligament damage and is out for up to three weeks.
At least Barca easily won that game against Malaga and France defender Eric Abidal believes their domestic form has given the Spanish club a boost to beat Kiev at home.
"It is always better to win before a Champions League game to give you confidence,'' Abidal said.
"Dynamo won their opening match (against Rubin Kazan) and we drew. We know that all Champions League games are hard to win but we are preparing well for this one.''
Despite the new injury problems, Barcelona have the strength in depth to beat the Ukraine champion at home in a competition where all the leading contenders avoided defeats in the opening round of games and should be confident of reaching the knockout phase.
Inter travel to meet the Russian champions in Group F and, although the winner of the last four Italian titles are coming off a 1-0 defeat at Sampdoria in the Serie A, they should rebound with a victory on Tuesday to stay in contention for a title they have not won since 1965.
Big match
One of the highlight games of the week's group matches is Bayern Munich at home to Juventus in Group A on Wednesday. The German club lead the group by two points.
Neither team won at the weekend, however, with Bayern losing 1-0 at new Bundesliga leaders Hamburg and Juve were held 1-1 by Bologna to squander a chance to return to the top of Serie A.
Five-time European cup winners Liverpool visit Fiorentina in Group E and are level on points with Lyon, who go to Hungarian league champions Debrecen.
A 6-1 victory over Hull on Saturday is the ideal preparation with Fernando Torres scoring three times for Liverpool to take his tally for the season to an English Premier League best eight.
"He is the kind of player who can change a game and the way he is working at the moment you can see the best from him,'' Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.
"When a striker, especially, scores goals he has more confidence.
"After last year, when he was injured a lot, he wanted to do well this year again.
"Our players want to win trophies and the big names have to perform, because the other players will follow them.''
Room for improvement
Chasing an elusive 10th title in European football's biggest club competition, Real Madrid began with a 5-2 victory away at FC Zurich in Group C and now host Marseille on Wednesday.
Like Barcelona, they have begun the domestic season with five straight wins but coach Manuel Pellegrini, whose club has twice broken the international transfer record price to build the most expensive squad in the world, sees room for improvement.
"The team is still working on many aspects of the game,'' the Chilean coach said.
"We are improving on many of them. We've scored 16 goals so far, more than three on average per clash. We are also the least scored-upon team.
CL Fixtures
Tuesday 29 September AZ v Standard Liege Arsenal v Olympiakos Barcelona v Dynamo Kiev Debrecen v Lyon Fiorentina v Liverpool Rangers v Sevilla Rubin Kazan v Inter Milan Unirea Urziceni v StuttgartWednesday 30 September AC Milan v FC Zurich Apoel Nicosia v Chelsea Bayern Munich v Juventus Bordeaux v Maccabi Haifa CSKA Moscow v Besiktas FC Porto v Atletico Madrid Man Utd v Wolfsburg Real Madrid v Marseille"We have to improve on several things, but I think we are on the right track regarding others.''
AC Milan, a seven-time winner of European football's top prize, is trying to shrug off some poor domestic form - including a 0-0 draw with Bari on Sunday - and host Zurich, who are joint top with Madrid.
Runners-up last year, Manchester United began with a routine victory over Turkey's Besitkas in Istanbul and now host German champions Wolfsburg for the first time.
Alex Ferguson's team is boosted by going to the top of the English Premier League on Saturday with an expected 2-0 victory at Stoke and will open up a three-point lead in their Champions League group if they win at Old Trafford.
Arsenal and Olympiakos both won their opening games in Group H and meet at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, when AZ Alkmaar welcome Standard Liege.
The Dutch champions lost 1-0 at Utrecht on Saturday, their third in a row, and another loss will likely increase pressure on coach Ronald Koeman.
"We need to go back to the basics,'' captain Stijn Schaars said.
"We must look back at our form from last season. Hopefully, things can change with victory against Standard Liege.''
English side Chelsea lead Group D but lost their perfect start to the Premier League season on Saturday when they surprisingly lost 3-1 at Wigan.
Now they travel to APOEL Nicosia, who did well to capture a draw with Atletico Madrid two weeks ago.
The Spanish club hope to rebound with a victory at Portuguese champion FC Porto.
Sevilla top Group G and face a lively atmosphere at Rangers on Tuesday, while Stuttgart head for Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni buoyed by a 3-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt, where Julian Schieber scored twice.

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