Wednesday preview

Messi-less Barca hope to secure top spot

November 25, 2008

Barcelona have the chance to secure top spot in Champions League Group C and prove they are not dependent on striker Lionel Messi to win matches when they visit Sporting on Wednesday.

Barca's nine-match winning streak in the Primera Liga came to an end with a 1-1 draw at home to Getafe on Sunday, as Pep Guardiola's outfit struggled to open up their well-organised opponents.

Argentine Messi, who has four goals to his name in the group stage this season, was left in the stands as a precautionary measure after picking up a thigh strain last week, and although he was included for the trip to Portugal, remains a doubt.

"Lionel is a very important part of the team and there is no doubt he is missed when he doesn't play," goalkeeper Victor Valdes told a news conference on Monday.

"But we can't always be waiting for, or dependent, on one individual. Every player has qualities to offer to the group as a whole."

Teenage striker Bojan Krkic played wide on the right against Getafe but struggled to make much of an impression and was seen to be in tears on the bench after he was substituted in the second half.

He could start in Lisbon along with Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry up front. Midfielder Andres Iniesta and full back Eric Abidal are out injured.

Captain Carles Puyol and midfielder Yaya Toure have been rested from the squad suffering with minor complaints.

Barca beat Sporting 3-1 at the Nou Camp in September and are unbeaten over their four games, though they slipped up with a 1-1 draw at home to FC Basel last time out.

Both Barca and Sporting have already qualified for the knockout stage with the Catalans holding a one-point advantage over Sporting, who have progressed to the last 16 for the first time.

Sporting coach Paulo Bento is set to rest a number of players after an energy-sapping 1-0 league win over Naval on Saturday, a match in which the Lisbon team played with only nine men for the last 23 minutes.

"The aim in the League (Champions) is reached. We'll fight for the first place in the group, but with other factors to be taken into account, most of all the attrition (in Naval's match) to which the team was subjected, that may weigh on my options for managing the squad," Bento told reporters.

Sporting will be without right-back Abel, central defender Tonel and Brazilian midfielder Fabio Rochemback due to injuries, while defenders Marco Caneira, Pedro Silva and Grimi are doubtful.