Barca had the luxury of playing the last group game of the UEFA Champions League tonight safe in the knowledge that they would top their group regardless of the result. Another upside of this was that the youngsters from Barca B were given the opportunity to step out of the long shadows cast by the resident superstars and prove what they could do in front of the Camp Nou. Starting berths were handed out to Champions League newcomers Montoya, Fontas and Bartra at the back, with Maxwell the only one of the back four with decent first team experience. Dos Santos and the Alacantra brothers, Rafinha and Thiago, composed the midfield and a new look forward line of Cuenca, Pedro and Sergi Roberto were eager to impress on such a prestigious stage.
The imminence of El Clásico brushes away most other thoughts as it approaches, with the week leading up to this epic match a blur of hysterical Marca headlines proclaiming the moral superiority of Madrid’s men in white. It is easy to forget, dear reader, that Tuesday heralds the last game of Champions League action for 2011, with the arrival of Belorussia’s BATE Borisov to contest the final game of Group H. Having firmly secured top spot in the group following a thrilling encounter against Italian rivals AC Milan a fortnight ago, Barça have little to play for but pride; for BATE things are not so simple. Sitting bottom of the table, the Belorussian side enter the final match day fighting for third place, and the golden parachute into the Europa League. As much of Barcelona’s first team rests for this weekend’s decisive match against arch rivals Real Madrid, Borisov look set to face a youthful Catalan side in what should prove an excellent opportunity for the younger players to gain some European experience in front of a home crowd.
The reigning Champions League Champions left behind a sunny Catalonia for the bitter chills of Minsk as they continued along their long and winding road which will hopefully end in Munich next May. Guardiola’s Champions League away form has left a lot to be desired in recent seasons, but his offensive line up smacked of a steely resolve and an intention to continue scoring for fun. Busquets and Fabregas were relegated to the bench to make way for a midfield of Keita, Xavi and boy wonder Thiago, who has defied expectation by consistently securing his place in the starting eleven this season ahead of more household names.
Group H action returns this Wednesday as Barcelona travel to face Belarusian champions BATE Borisov, in what will be the Catalan’s inaugural trip to the tiny nation. Fresh from a 5-0 mauling of Atlético Madrid, Barcelona will look to take advantage of the gulf in class between the two sides to banish memories of the 2-2 draw with AC Milan on match day one, a game that highlighted the defensive shortcoming that have plagued the Spanish champions so far this season. The return to fitness of Gerard Piqué is offset by mounting losses in the midfield and up front, with Andrés Iniesta, Alexis Sánchez and Ibrahim Afellay all sidelined with various injuries. Nonetheless, the Catalan side will be aiming for an emphatic win on Wednesday with an eye towards securing top spot in the group before their trip to the San Siro in November.
Not many cules will know who Filipp Rudik is but they are likely to remember him now, for the midfielder from the Belarus club FC BATE Borisov gave what was one of the more amusing press conferences before his club took on FC Barcelona in group stage of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday. Rudik replied to the serious questions with jest and mock seriousness and while his light assessments and opinions of the match may have undermined his side’s chances of winning against the mighty Catalan club, they also showed the respect the player has for the reigning European champions and how excited he was at the prospect of playing them. Asked why was he looking forward to the Wednesday encounter, Rudik said, “Because I have never met creatures from outer space before“.
Read more fun stuff from Rudik after the jump.