FC Barcelona will have to shake off determined opponents in Rangers FC, and buck a curious trend against Scottish teams, to move clear in Group E.
FC Barcelona will have to shake off determined opponents in Rangers FC, and buck a curious trend against Scottish teams, if they are to win on Matchday 4 and move clear at the top of Group E.
Following a 0-0 draw in Glasgow a fortnight ago, Barcelona's record against sides from Scotland reads only one victory in six meetings, plus the even more remarkable statistic of one defeat and two draws against Scottish opposition at Camp Nou. But with goal difference alone keeping Barça ahead of Wednesday's visitors at the section summit, Frank Rijkaard has the advantage of a 3-0 weekend win against Real Betis Balompié, and an unbreached defence in Europe this season, fuelling his team's self-belief.
The Dutchman says confidence and attitude will be as important factors as quality for his side. "I think I know how to explain Barça's general record against Scottish clubs: when Scots play against the great names of world football they always produce extra pride, extra motivation," he said. "They have a terrific mentality in such matches and they always want to defend the honour of their club and country in front of loyal, sporting fans."
Rijkaard understands the way in which Lionel Messi's disappointment at Rangers' defensive approach at Ibrox has been interpreted in Scotland, but is quite content for the Light Blues to come and play the game which they believe will succeed for them. "Walter Smith's record is impressive in general and he's achieved great things for Rangers," said Rijkaard. "Messi used the expression 'anti-football' but it's one I don't like because football has many facets and I absolutely accept any team's right to chose the tactics which best suit them. Our need is to score early and open the game up, because I view Rangers as difficult, dangerous opponents." Italian FIFA World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta misses the match with an ankle knock but Gabriel Milito returns to the squad after resting against Betis.
Smith, who is without the suspended Kevin Thomson but can welcome back Charlie Adam after a virus, acknowledges that Rangers face a difficult test, but argues that if they get their tactics right then a valuable draw is within their grasp. "Barcelona don't drop many points at the Camp Nou either in domestic or Champions League football so it's a tough challenge," he said. "But if we put on the same performance as we managed at Ibrox then the same result is feasible."
The former Scotland manager is also happy to identify what he thinks will be the two key factors: "My team has defended well in pressure situations this season and that will again be vital. And while it's easy to identify Barça's strikers as world-class players, I think that teams who come here and want a result have to ensure that Xavi [Hernández] and [Andrés] Iniesta don't have easy possession with which to supply the goalscorers." Victory would earn either side a place in the last 16 if Olympique Lyonnais lose at home to VfB Stuttgart.