UEFA Champions League
December 5, 2012
Barcelona v Benfica: Preview
Team Stat Comparison
|Goals for *||1.7||0.3|
|Goals against *||1.0||0.7|
|Last 5 home||L-D-W-D-W||W-W-L|
|Last 5 away||L-D-L-W-L||D-L-D|
|* Goals per match - home matches for home club and away matches for away club|
|Stats: Barcelona | Benfica|
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova will field a much-changed line-up for tomorrow's final Champions League Group G game against Benfica - but there will be no rest for Lionel Messi as the prolific Argentina forward looks to make history.
The Catalan club on Saturday thrashed Athletic Bilbao 5-1 in the Primera Division, Messi's 83rd and 84th goals of 2012 moving him within one goal of equalling Gerd Muller's 1972 record of 85 in a calendar year.
The emphatic win helped Barca finish the weekend six points clear at the summit and made their start to the campaign - 40 points from 14 games - the best ever in the Spanish top flight.
Things could not have gone much more smoothly in Europe, either, with top spot in the pool already assured.
Vilanova has, therefore, given several of his star men the night off.
Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Andres Iniesta - all included yesterday among the 40 candidates for UEFA's Team of the Year - have been rested along with Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez, while B team players Sergi Gomez, Carles Planas, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Gerard Deulofeu and Cristian Tello have been included in the 18-man squad.
Messi, however, will feature against the Portuguese visitors, who head into the match in second spot but level on seven points with Celtic.
Speaking today at his pre-match press conference, Vilanova said: "Leo was rested last week against Alaves in the Copa del Rey.
"It's not about records for goals - the main thing is to win. He is the same as always. He always wants to play and he is in his best habitat when he is playing.
"I'm excited that he plays, and for us it is always better.''
Despite having shuffled his pack, Vilanova has promised that whoever takes to the pitch at the Nou Camp will be up to the task - and motivated to perform.
"We will present a competitive team,'' he said. "It's an important game because we represent the club. It's the Champions League, and there are teams playing for qualification.
"There are players who are coming off injuries and this match will be perfect. It will be great motivation, for sure. Also, they are all professionals and always give their all.''
And Vilanova will not be under-estimating the threat posed by tomorrow's opponents.
He added: "Benfica are a very dangerous team, especially up front, with Lima and (Oscar) Cardozo, who can create something at any time.''
Benfica, runners-up to Porto in the Portuguese Liga last season but level on points with the champions at the top after 10 games this term, approach the game holding the upper hand over third-placed Celtic thanks to their superior head-to-head record.
The Scottish side, who round off their group campaign at home to Spartak Moscow, must better the result achieved by Jorge Jesus' team against Barca in order to progress to the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition.
Benfica head into the game well rested, having not played domestically since a 2-0 win over SC Olhanense on November 24.
But Jesus will be without injured midfielders Eduardo Salvio (ankle), Enzo Perez, Carlos Martins and Pablo Aimar for the vital encounter at the Nou Camp.
The Benfica boss remained adamant he would only be paying attention to his own side and check on Celtic's progress against Spartak Moscow at the final whistle
"In football everything changes from one moment to the next,'' Jesus told reporters.
"You could be given some information, for example, that Spartak are winning but then everything changes during the game and, in emotional terms, is even worse.
"We will not tell the players - we have to concern ourselves with this result here.''