Barcelona have tough task against Stuttgart

Barcelona have tough task against Stuttgart

Olympiakos bank on boisterous home support

Barcelona have tough task against Stuttgart

dependable: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (centre) will be the key to his team’s success against VfB Stuttgart. AFP

When Stuttgart came out of the hat on Dec 19 they were 15th in the Bundesliga, with two league wins, and only goal difference stood between them and the relegation playoff spot.

Since then the Germans have jumped to ninth in the table after seven wins in eight games under former Tottenham Hotspur coach Christian Gross and they go into the first leg against Barca full of confidence.

Stuttgart sounded another warning on Saturday when they won 5-1 at Cologne, helped by four goals from Brazilian-born striker Cacau who returned after a month out through injury.

La Liga leaders Barcelona, 4-0 winners over Racing Santander on Saturday, have lost only one league match all season.

They topped Champions League Group ‘F’ ahead of Inter Milan but managed only seven goals in six games which included two goalless draws.

Barca captain Carles Puyol acknowledged they would be facing a much-improved side. "They are doing better," he said. "They are a very dangerous team. If we do not keep our concentration we will find ourselves in trouble."

The Catalans have included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Daniel Alves and Xavi in their squad but Barca did not say whether the trio would be fit to play. Ibrahimovic was replaced by Thierry Henry, who scored only his third goal of the season, against Racing.

Olympiakos threat

Olympiakos Piraeus winger Jaouad Zairi has told Girondins Bordeaux to expect a red-hot reception from the crowd in Tuesday's Champions League last-16 first leg.

"The atmosphere in the Karaiskakis Stadium is boiling hot," said Moroccan Zairi. "Our supporters are fanatics and are literally our 12th player.

"Such support can turn a match. We have already beaten Arsenal at home this season and we will give everything to win on Tuesday."

However the Greeks, who are making only their third appearance in the knockout rounds, are up against one of the Champions League's form teams.

Laurent Blanc's swashbuckling side are top of Ligue 1 and dropped just two points in the group stages of Europe's elite club competition, conceding only two goals.

Olympiakos, who are coached by Serbian Bozidar Bantovic, have an unblemished home record in this season's competition following 1-0 victories over AZ Alkmaar and Arsenal and a 2-1 win over Standard Liege. They will be without Diogo and Luciano Galletti but fellow South American, midfielder Dudu, is expected to return from injury.

Bordeaux defender Matthieu Chalme said his team must forget the atmosphere likely to be generated by the home supporters.

"We must not fear the hot atmosphere Olympiakos fans can create," he said.

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