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By Graham Hunter
Opportunity knocks for Louis van Gaal at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night when FC Barcelona will qualify for the UEFA Champions League second group stage if they defeat Group H's bottom side, FC Lokomotiv Moskva.
Luis Enrique injured
After three straight victories, the 1992 European champions could have been forgiven for making one or two changes tonight. As it is, an achilles injury to club captain Luis Enrique gives Van Gaal the chance to refresh his formidable front trio, a fixture since pre-season training.
Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola scored the goals in an impressive 3-1 victory in Moscow earlier this month. But tonight Juan Román Riquelme, whose name has been chanted by the Catalan crowd ever since he scored the crucial second goal in the home leg of their Champions League qualifier against Legia Warszawa, could get his first start of the season in place of Luis Enrique.
'The fans want their idol'
"It has been understandable for the crowd to chant for him while we have not been winning in the Spanish league, because the fans want their idol," said Van Gaal. "But until now I have needed a player who moves and thinks more quickly in this system."
Assuming Carlos Puyol recovers from a knee injury that restricted him to a light 15-minute workout on Tuesday, Van Gaal will probably resist the temptation to tinker with his three-man defensive system, much criticised following Barça's loss of eight points in their last three league games.
Motta in doubt
"It is not necessary to change because when we concede sloppy goals, no system of play can prevent them," Van Gaal said. With Fabio Rochemback and Patrik Andersson injured, Frank de Boer and Fernando Navarro seem set to continue alongside Puyol in the same 3-4-2-1 system. Midfield player Thiago Motta, meanwhile, pulled up with a hamstring problem in Tuesday's training session.
Top of the league
Surprisingly, it is Lokomotiv who are the in-form side. Yuri Semin's men top the Russian Premier-Liga after beating FC Torpedo-ZIL Moskva 3-0 at the weekend, and Barça's Dutch international midfielder Philip Cocu cautioned against complacency among his team-mates.
'A good technical side'
"Lokomotiv like to keep possession and build from the back, and I thought they were a good technical side whose first touch on the ball was excellent when we played them three weeks ago," he said. "They pass the ball quickly from front to back, and we will have to perform at our top level if we are to win."
But Lokomotiv face a contest from which they must take a point at least to remain competitive in the group. They have only a draw, away at Club Brugge KV, to show for the first three matches and it is points on the board, rather than ones for artistic merit, they now need.
'High class team'
"Barcelona are a high-class team, there are few like them," said Semin. "But we have watched them play and lose against teams like Real Betis [Balompié] and [Real] Valladolid. I have watched very carefully how those teams played against Barcelona and we will employ the same tactics."
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