The Champions League is once again upon us. FC Barcelona will be looking to avoid another Greek tragedy like that inflicted by La Liga newcomers Hércules last Saturday, and hope to start off the 2010/2011 campaign with a resounding win against Greek champions Panathinaikos, whom they host at the Camp Nou Tuesday evening in the first game of the tournament’s group stage.
David Villa, speaking to El Mundo Deportivo, referred to last weekend’s defeat as “an accident“, adding that the defeat is “already forgotten, but that we need to analyze the things we did badly so that they don’t happen again in the future.” Having omitted Xavi, Busquets, Puyol and Dani Alves from Saturday’s starting lineup against Hércules, Guardiola is expected to start the four in Tuesday’s Champions League opener, restoring the side to a more familiar look from last season.
Putting Saturday’s disappointment aside, Panathinaikos present what could be a formidable challenge to the Catalans’ hopes of an easy progression through the tournament’s group stage. The Athens-based team has assembled a squad with a number of well known European talents, boasting the likes of French internationals Djibril Cissé and Sidney Govou, Spain’s Luis García, and former Arsenal captain Gilberto Silva. Complimented by a number of talented homegrown Greek players, including 2004 European Cup winners Kostas Katsouranis and Giourkas Seitaridis, Panathinaikos will no doubt put up stiff resistance to the Catalans’ flowing style of attacking football.
In contrast to Barcelona’s defeat at the weekend, Panathinaikos warmed up for this week’s Champions League clash with a win against Greek side Aris Thessaloniki, with striker Djibril Cissé converting from the penalty spot. Greek internationals Giorgos Karagounis and Nikos Spyropoulos are both trying to regain match fitness for Tuesday night’s European encounter, having sat out the Aris game with injuries picked up on international duty with Greece at the midweek.
As reported earlier here on totalBarca, reports have suggested that the Catalan team is interested in young Panathinaikos and Greece international Sotiris Ninis. The 20-year-old was a standout in Panathinaikos’s Greek League and Cup double last season, playing 36 games with four goals and five assists. Guardiola and the technical staff will no doubt be keeping a keen eye on the young player should he feature on Tuesday.
An interesting note for this season’s Champions League start is the inclusion of two new goal line assistant referees. Initially tested in last seasons Europa League games, UEFA hopes that the additional officials will help to avoid any disputed calls in the penalty area.
Prediction: A full strength Barcelona side should be looking to rebound from last weekend’s defeat, and despite a good deal of attacking menace, Panathinaikos should be put to the sword.
Barcelona 4-1 Panathinaikos