Spartak Moscow v Barcelona Preview
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Injury-riddled Spartak Moscow need something from Tuesday’s Group G match with Barcelona if they’re to stand any chance of progressing to the last 16, but manager Unai Emery hasn’t won in 14 previous attempts against the Catalan giants and will be relying on his fourth-string goalkeeper to keep the likes of Lionel Messi and David Villa at bay at the Luzhniki.
BREAKDOWN: Unai Emery is familiar with FC Barcelona from his four years in charge at Valencia, but not once during his time with Los Che could he enjoy a victory against the Blaugrana. Now in charge of Spartak Moscow, the 41-year-old is hoping to reverse the pattern on Tuesday, and given his side’s position in the group he knows only a win will revive a Champions League campaign that looks to be expiring.
“Our goal is to get three points because we are desperate to qualify and be playing in Europe in the spring,” he told UEFA.com on Monday. “The fact that we are playing Barcelona means it will be a difficult game. However, we have reason for optimism because we are also a strong team and have won two of our last three games.”
Those victories came against Kryliya Sovetov and Krasnodar, and when the results of Spartak’s last four Russian Premier League matches are tallied they’ve taken 10 of a possible 12 points and outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 10-1. It’s been a different story in the Champions League, however, where they have just a home win against Benfica to show for four matches.
Barcelona, meanwhile, lost at Celtic the last time out in the Champions League and will be looking to put the finishing touches on their all-but-sealed progression to the knockout stages on Tuesday. They’ve defeated Mallorca and Real Zaragoza since the 2-1 defeat at Parkhead, and while they beat Spartak at Camp Nou in September manager Tito Vilanova isn’t taking anything for granted.
“These days you can’t beat anyone easily in the Champions League,” he told reporters at his Monday press conference. “Russian teams have made it difficult for us in the past. We know Unai Emery well and he has always caused us difficulties. He is a coach who always has a very organised defense and attack.
Vilanova welcomed his first-choice defensive tandem of Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique back into the starting lineup against Zaragoza on Saturday and both will play against Spartak as well. While the goals have come easily for Barcelona it’s been a different story at the back, and the hope in the Barcelona camp is that the two Spain internationals can help keep a first clean sheet in five attempts.
ESSENTIALS: Andriy Dikan, Sergei Pesyakov and Artem Rebrov are all out injured, which means Emery will have no choice but to go with fourth-choice goalkeeper Sergei Chernyshuk on Tuesday. The hosts are also without midfielders Romulo, Aiden McGeady and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and strikers Welliton and Artem Dzyuba. Defender Nicolas Pareja is suspended.
Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez is sidelined, and defender Marc Bartra is also injured.
KEY BATTLE: Left-back Dimitri Kombarov has scored in each of his last two Russian Premier League matches and is one of his side’s most important attacking threats. His head-to-head with Barcelona right-back Dani Alves will be interesting, but he’ll also have to make sure he doesn’t allow Pedro to get in behind him.
FORMATIONS: Emery will deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation with Nigeria forward Emmanuel Emenike up top and Jose Manuel Jurado, Ari and Igor Gorbatenko behind him from right to left. Vilanova will send out his fluid 4-3-3 with Pedro, Messi and Villa across the top.
BETLINE: Spartak Moscow 10/1; Draw 9/2; Barcelona 2/7. Lionel Messi has bagged 77 goals this calendar year—only eight fewer than Gerd Muller’s all-time record.