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FC Barcelona and Olympique Lyonnais coaches Frank Rijkaard and Alain Perrin admit there is extra tension surrounding their Group E opener at the Camp Nou where the teams meet for a mouthwatering fixture.
Despite their season being still in its infancy, Rijkaard's deposed Spanish and European champions are being subjected to the critical spotlight following two goalless draws in their first three Primera División outings. The Dutchman believes such pressure is part and parcel of coaching one of the world's leading clubs, however, and he views the situation as motivation for his side to rediscover their form against Lyon.
"There has been criticism which is understandable, so I will not moan or look for excuses," said Rijkaard. "But people are obsessed with what happened last season. There is a sense that I should be firmer with the players or give them a hard time, but I can guarantee that this squad merits far better than that. I don't mind if people have a go at me but the players are working hard, training with energy, giving their all professionally, and they just need confidence and support."
On Wednesday, Thierry Henry, Yaya Touré, Eric Abidal and Gabriel Milito could all wear the Blaugrana jersey in UEFA competition for the first time. Individuals come second for Rijkaard, though. "It is the result we work for, but I want the team to leave the fans in a positive frame of mind," Rijkaard continued. "Whatever the score, we need to leave the sense of hard work, unity, style, conviction – the normal high standards of Barcelona".
Lionel Messi and Rafael Márquez are likely to return after missing Sunday's CA Osasuna draw through injury and suspension respectively. Messi's absence gave a chance to Bojan Krkić, who appeared as a late substitute to become the third-youngest player in Barcelona's 108-year history. The 17-year-old should maintain his place on the bench – if he gets on the pitch, he will break Peter Oforiquaye's record as the youngest UEFA Champions League player.
In Karim Benzema, Lyon have a prodigy of their own: the 19-year-old struck a hat-trick at the weekend as the French champions won 5-1 at FC Metz, a fourth straight Ligue 1 victory for Perrin's men. And having won eight and drawn one of their last 14 away fixtures in the UEFA Champions League, the Stade Gerland outfit could pose Barcelona a real threat.
"We face a great team," Perrin said. "But traditionally, it is better to face Spanish sides in the early games because their domestic season starts later than ours. There is a massive amount of pressure on Barcelona. They view it as vital to start with a big win and they are being criticised now, so the opportunity is there for us to create a shock. I want my players to go out, defend well, attack on the break and, above all, not give the ball away cheaply."
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