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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

UEFA Champions League: Barcelona not complacent ahead of Olympiacos tie

Barcelona could secure a last-16 place in UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. A fourth straight group-stage win in Greece against Olympiacos would book a knock-out spot unless Sporting Lisbon beat Juventus.

football Updated: Oct 31, 2017 10:00 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Paris
Barcelona can enter UEFA Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, but they need to win against Olympiacos.
Barcelona can enter UEFA Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, but they need to win against Olympiacos.(REUTERS)

Barcelona must appreciate matching the club’s record of nine wins and a draw in their first 10 games of a Liga campaign, especially after Real Madrid’s defeat at Girona, coach Ernesto Valverde told a news conference on Monday.

Barca rode their luck to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0 away on Saturday to maintain a four-point gap at the top of the table, thanks to an outstanding display from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and a Raul Garcia shot that bounced off the bar.

On Sunday, Spanish and European champions Real blew a 1-0 halftime lead to lose 2-1 against Girona, who are playing in the top flight for the first time in their 87-year history.

READ | Lionel Messi helps F.C. Barcelona go eight points clear of Real Madrid C.F.

La Liga form

Real are now eight points behind their arch-rivals.

Barca won 3-0 at Girona last month and only dropped points in a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid. They also have a perfect record in the Champions League and could reach the last 16 if they win at Valverde’s old club Olympiakos Piraeus on Tuesday.

“La Liga is really difficult,” Valverde said ahead of the Group D game in Athens.

“We aren’t the only team that has to suffer to win. Madrid lost at Girona and Atletico drew at home (to Villarreal). The points are worth a lot and you have to work very hard to win.

“We all expect to slip up at some point and the distances between teams can increase or decrease, but last weekend shows that we have to really appreciate these victories.”

READ | FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain on verge of UEFA Champions League last 16

Tough Time

Barca beat Olympiakos 3-1 two weeks ago despite playing the second half with 10 men but Valverde expects a tougher time at the noisy Karaiskakis Stadium, where he is revered for leading the Greek giants to three league titles and two domestic Cups.

“It’s very exciting to come back to this stadium again. It means so much to me and I’m looking forward to the game for every reason,” added Valverde, who coached Olympiakos between 2008 and 2012 in two separate spells.

“We are playing for the right to qualify from the group, three points are at stake and we get to experience a marvellous atmosphere.”

Barca’s rampant start to the season contrasts to Olympiakos’s dismal run of results. They have lost all three games in the Champions League and on Saturday were beaten 1-0 by fierce city rivals Panathinaikos.

“In Barcelona they played defensively and tried to catch us out but at their place they’ll have a huge lift from their fans and they’ll want to beat us,” Valverde said.

Barca captain Andres Iniesta has a calf injury, Gerard Pique is suspended, while fellow centre back Javier Mascherano, who has travelled to Greece, has been suffering with a fever meaning Thomas Vermaelen could make his first appearance of the season.

First Published: Oct 31, 2017 09:04 IST