By Graham Hunter
FC Barcelona coach Radomir Antic has warned that Bayer 04 Leverkusen will be a tough nut to crack at the Camp Nou, even though the German side are yet to pick up a point in the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Having watched his side stumble to what he called an "anarchic" draw against mid-table rivals Real Valladolid on Saturday, Antic has demanded that Barcelona reassert themselves and qualify for the quarter-finals regardless of other results.
Antic heard alarm bells ringing when he heard Leverkusen coach Thomas Hörster sum up his team's penultimate Group A match by saying: "We haven't come here to win because we want to use this game solely to practise and improve our performances in the Bundesliga."
The Serbian warned: "We need to expect Leverkusen to make it hard because of their natural German ability to sacrifice a lot for victory and to struggle and fight until they get it. To talk about an easy victory, well I'm not holding my breath because I don't expect anything like that."
Sting in the tail
Leverkusen have had a miserable time since finishing runners-up in last season's Champions League, 1. Bundesliga and German Cup, but Saturday night's domestic draw was damaging to Barcelona as they failed to capitalise on defeats for RC Celta de Vigo and Real Betis Balompié, and to keep pace with Club Atlético de Madrid and Sevilla FC who both won.
They now lie six points outside the UEFA Cup qualification spots and 14 points away from the Champions League places. Midfield player Gabri García summed up the squad's point of view best, saying: "
It will be simpler for us to win the Champions League than to finish in the top four of the Primera División and qualify for the next season's competition that way."
A point will take Barcelona to the quarter-finals, with three points ensuring that they are group winners, but the first hurdle to overcome will be an injury list which has left only nine first-team outfield players fully fit. The biggest loss will be Luis Enrique, who has pulled a thigh muscle having only just shaken off four months of achilles problems.
Leverkusen, too, are suffering on the injury front. Although Diego Placente is free of his domestic suspension and will play, Juan, Carsten Ramelow and Oliver Neuville are missing. "It is because of our injuries that we are playing badly in the Bundesliga," said Hörster. "But our only aim now is to save the team from relegation so the Champions League is no longer important to us."
Hörster added: "Obviously it would be a dream to win. Moreover, a positive result here would be a huge boost to our morale in our fight against relegation. The only thing I will say is that Barcelona brings me good memories. In 1987/88 I was playing for Leverkusen when we beat both Barcelona and [RCD] Espanyol en route to winning the UEFA Cup."
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