‘Tough for Ajax to rule Europe again’
John Arne Riise knows about scoring the winner for an away team at Camp Nou on a European night; he did it in 2007 when Liverpool came from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1. So a resurgent Inter Milan could win at Barca on Wednesday, he said.
“Inter Milan have had a great start to the season but playing at Camp Nou is not easy. However, if (Lionel) Messi doesn’t play, it will be a tough game. I think Barca’s defence is going to have a tough game. If Inter Milan play to their standard, they have a good chance of winning,” said Riise on Monday over the phone.
Messi missed Saturday’s La Liga game against Getafe after a thigh injury. He played his first competitive game of the season as a substitute in Barcelona’s Champions League opener, 0-0 away to Borussia Dortmund.
Does Riise think Manchester United cast-offs Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez would use the biggest stage in club football to make a point at Camp Nou? “100%. When you have players of the capability of Lukaku and Sanchez, who were off-loaded by one club and they go to another club and play in the Champions League, they are always going to—well, not prove themselves— maybe tell the club that let them go, it made a mistake.”
Barcelona, he said, have started slowly because they are low on confidence and not because Neymar’s non-arrival has prolonged a summer of discontent. Norway’s most capped player at 110 internationals, Riise though didn’t feel the same when asked if Spurs were affected by transfer rumours around players including Christian Eriksen.
“I wouldn’t say it affects the whole team but maybe a few such as Eriksson who is already there. That can affect the dressing room. Even though they are at home (on Tuesday), I don’t see them being as extraordinary as they were last season,” said Riise of the 2018-19 runners-up.
“I think Bayern (Munich) is going to win because are they so much stronger.”
Ajax too could find it difficult to replicate last season’s semi-final run because they have lost key players, said Riise. It has been that way for them for a long time but Riise said the departures of Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus) and Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)—the headliners among 11 players Ajax sold after last season—could be too big a hole to fill.
Before moving from the topic of Neymar, Riise rubbished naysayers who think PSG and Brazil are better off without him. “Yes, he has had problems over some decisions he has made but you cannot take away how good a player he is. Both PSG and Brazil are better when Neymar is on the pitch,” he said.
Conversation wound to a close by talking about Liverpool. Riise said the loss to Napoli didn’t show how well Liverpool played, so that is a positive ahead of Wednesday’s tie against Red Bull Salzburg. And it will help the defending champions if 19-year-old Norwegian sensation Erling Braut Haaland misses the game at Anfield due to illness.
“I have seen a lot of him when he played for Molde and also for the national under-21 team. He is a young, tall, strong striker and I am glad he chose a league (Austria) where he can develop gradually; you know, he took a smaller step. Though I am surprised he started with a hat-trick in the Champions League, I know he will keep scoring goals,” said Riise, 39. The Champions League final will be in Istanbul on May 30, over 15 years after Liverpool produced a stunning second-half comeback against AC Milan—one started by a Riise assist which Steven Gerrard headed home—to win the title.
Is that at the back of Riise’s mind when he talks about this season? “The way Liverpool are playing, they can go all the way. But first, they need to beat Salzburg and get out of the group. In the knockout games, home and away, anything can happen, but it’s looking good for Liverpool.”
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