Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman believes his side are not among the favourites to win this season’s Champions League with the Catalans having made a stuttering start to the new season.
Speaking ahead of today’s visit of Hungarians Ferencvaros in their Champions league Group G opener, Koeman played down media talk that the Catalans could be European champions. “When you’re at Barcelona you always want to be there fighting for trophies, be it in La Liga or Europe. We aren’t the favourites, but we can go far,” he told a news conference.
Barca’s recent Champions League failings — they have just one semi-final appearance since last winning the competition in 2015 — were cited by many as talisman Lionel Messi’s main reason for attempting to leave the Nou Camp in the transfer window.
The Argentina forward has frequently voiced his desire to lift the trophy again and this season could be a final chance to do it with Barca as his current contract expires next year. “Right now, you could maybe say his performances could be better,” Koeman said of his 33-year-old captain after Barca lost 1-0 at unfancied Getafe in la Liga on Saturday. “But when you see him on a day-to-day basis, he’s happy and wants to play and be the team’s captain. I don’t have any complaints or doubts about his effort.”
The Ferencvaros game comes four days before the first Clasico of the season at home to Real Madrid but Koeman said his side are only focusing on the Champions League for now. “We know it won’t be an easy game. We’ll put out a strong team. Saturday’s game isn’t important right now — the important one is tomorrow’s game. It will be a tough match as there’s no such thing as an easy opponent nowadays,” added the Dutchman. “It’s always important to win the first Champions League group game, especially at home.”
Koeman will be without goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jordi Alba plus long-term injury absentee Samuel Umtiti.
Leipzig to launch European campaign in front of 999 fans
RB Leipzig will be allowed to welcome 999 fans to the Red Bull Arena for their Champions League opener against Istanbul Basaksehir today. Despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases across Germany, the local health authority in Leipzig has granted permission for up to 999 spectators to attend, down from the usual number of 8,500 fans allowed for home Bundesliga games.
The seven-day rate of infection for coronavirus in Leipzig yesterday was close to 20 per 100,000 inhabitants, far lower than Berlin with 87 and Munich with 70. Champions League holders Bayern Munich will face Atletico Madrid behind closed doors tomorrow at the Allianz Arena.
Bundesliga leaders Leipzig are eager to get an opening win before heading to Manchester United, then hosting Paris Saint Germain — who beat them in last season’s semi-finals — in consecutive weeks. “We know we’ve got a challenging group,” admitted Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann. Leipzig reached the last four earlier this year by beating Tottenham and Atletico Madrid, having reached the knock-out stage for the first time.
“It’s a strange feeling that it’s starting again now, but we are looking forward to it,” said Nagelsmann, just 63 days after their defeat by PSG. Leipzig warmed up with an impressive 2-0 win over in-form side Augsburg on Saturday to stay top of the Bundesliga, with on-loan Manchester City left-back Angelino and Denmark striker Yussuf Poulsen providing the goals.
Turkish Super Lig champions Basaksehir, backed by Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sit in the relegation places this season after three defeats in their opening five games. They won the league title last season for the first time in the club’s history.
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