Josep Guardiola knows there is "no comfort zone given our recent results" as FC Barcelona look to arrest a run of three games without a victory when Sporting Clube de Portugal arrive for a Group C opener at Camp Nou.
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If Josep Guardiola thought returning as a coach to a competition he won with FC Barcelona as a player would offer respite following a run of three games which have produced only one penalty goal and a draw, then the Camp Nou legend may be left a little deflated.
Despite the prospect of an entertaining match when Sporting Clube de Portugal visit last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finalists on Tuesday, both the local media and the Blaugrana fans are deeply preoccupied with Barcelona's sudden lack of fire power. Defeats by Wisła Kraków – albeit with group-stage qualification assured – and Spanish Liga newcomers CD Numancia, plus a 1-1 weekend draw with Real Racing Club Santander, have been troubling preparation for a firm Group C test from the 2007/08 Portuguese runners-up.
"It's a bit of a handicap when you are not scoring goals," Guardiola said. "But it's very difficult to correct that when it happens. Goals are a question of technique, work, luck and feeling. I know our work is good, I know we are creating chances, so I'm not too worried. I'd rather say that it's a pleasure to coach this club in this competition, because the Champions League means that you are up against the best footballers, the biggest clubs. And the world is watching what you do, which I like."
Guardiola's patient, careful and articulate manner should serve him well while his team struggle to find their rhythm. Yet the demands for immediate success, and style, have not diminished. Against Sporting he can call on Rafael Márquez, Thierry Henry and Sylvinho, all of whom were absent from the squad against Racing. It is also likely that Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta, substitutes on Saturday, will start. "There is no comfort zone given our recent results, but you are always obliged to win your home games in this or any competition," continued the 37-year-old. "I knew about the situation when I joined, I knew how demanding it would be. I can't and won't predict what will happen if we don't win against Sporting, but I do know how I plan to win and what I'll ask my players to do."
The return of the UEFA Champions League did, at least, allow for some fraternal feeling among the coaching brotherhood. Guardiola and Paulo Bento coincided as players, prompting the former Real Oviedo CF midfielder to say: "Pep was a great at Barça and he'll know exactly how to build this club. The good play and the goals will definitely arrive – I just hope neither come against us. Simply because they've dropped form for a couple of matches doesn't mean I'm less worried than when the draw was made. Barça are a great club but Sporting's philosophy is to play to win no matter where we are or who we face." Bento's side have not played since 1 September thanks to the international break and the Portuguese Cup. They could welcome back striker Yannick Djaló after a muscle injury while former Barcelona favourite Fábio Rochemback returns to the Camp Nou in Sporting's midfield.