London, Feb 22 (IANS) Spanish football club Barcelona can travel to London on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League tie away to Arsenal confident that they have done their job in domestic competition and can focus all their attention on retaining the Champions League and perhaps repeating last season’s treble.
Luis Enrique’s side were far from their best in their 2-1 victory away to Las Palmas on Saturday but that win, coupled with draws for title rivals Atletico and Real Madrid, saw them open an eight-point lead over Atletico and nine over Real with just 13 games remaining this season, reports Xinhua.
Bearing in mind that Real entertain their neighbours next Saturday, which means one or both will drop further points and that Real Madrid have never clawed back a nine-point deficit in the title race with 13 games remaining, Enrique could be forgiven a wry smile as he boards the plane to London, especially if one remember’s that his side have also reached the final of the King’s Cup for the third year in succession.
The Barcelona coach rested some players on Saturday, following with his tactic of squad rotation and will be pleased to welcome Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique back to his starting 11 in the Emirates Stadium.
Meanwhile, the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is not open to negotiation and they will look to find weaknesses of an Arsenal defence which at times has looked vulnerable despite the pace of central defender Laurent Koscielny and young Catalan Hector Bellerin.
Ter Stegen will return in goal while Messi will be aiming to break his duck against Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, who he has never scored against in six previous encounters, although those were when Cech was playing for Chelsea.
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, who watched as his side were held to 0-0 in the FA Cup by second division leaders Hull City on Saturday, will be aware that his side have never clinched a tie against Barcelona, with just one win, two draws and six defeats in their nine meetings (including the 2006 final).
However, he will also know that with fit-again Danny Welbeck on the subs’ bench along with Theo Walcott, he has options, while the time may have come for former Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil, who has 18 assists this season, to step up to the plate when it really matters.
The thing is, he is up against a rival who has already done his homework.