Josep Guardiola insists that though FC Barcelona will not be at full strength against FC Shakhtar Donetsk he will be demanding the same exacting standards from his players as he bids to end Group C on a high.
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Those who know him well explain that Josep Guardiola has always been an extremely driven, extremely demanding man. Matchday 6 and the visit of FC Shakhtar Donetsk to the Camp Nou has already given added evidence of these two admirable qualities in the 37-year-old FC Barcelona coach.
Partly with a view to Saturday's Liga home match against Real Madrid CF, but equally because his players are asked to perform at a massively intense level for month after endless month, Guardiola has chosen to rest eight significant players for the visit of Shakhtar. Barcelona, impressive 4-0 winners against Valencia CF at the weekend, have confirmed both qualification and top spot in Group C thanks to their powerful performances since September, so Samuel Eto'o, Víctor Valdés, Daniel Alves, Carles Puyol, Rafael Márquez, Yaya Touré, Xavi Hernández and Lionel Messi have all been given two days' holiday and will not feature in the squad to face Mircea Lucescu's team. Guardiola believes he stands to benefit twice over from seeing what he hates to hear described as a "second XI" getting a tough examination from the Ukrainian side.
"There are a thousand different things you can learn as a coach on a night like this," argued the man who lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup as a Barça player at Wembley in 1992. "The guys I pick will hear me telling them that on the night they are Barça's first team, that I expect them to win, and that I'll demand they recognise the prestige of playing in the Champions League. I understand that around this city everyone wants to talk about the match against Madrid this weekend, that everyone thinks the reason for me resting senior players is El Clásico, but that's not true. All eight players are already carrying a lot of games in their legs and they will benefit from the rest in the medium term, not just for the weekend. Also, I want to see hunger, concentration and quality from those players who don't get so many opportunities, particularly because Shakhtar have given us our most difficult European game this season."
That last-gasp 2-1 win for the Blaugrana in Donetsk on Matchday 2 remains a thorn in Lucescu's side. "We didn't get the result we deserved and I'd like to put that right at Camp Nou," said the 63-year-old Romanian. "Had we won, the pressure Barça would have been under could have changed the entire face of Group C. So, although we cannot qualify for the next phase, my players had better not think they are here on holiday." Striker Brandão is available after suspension and defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy is expected to recover from a thigh problem to start. Lucescu spoke in support of Guardiola's decision to rest star players but does not think his UEFA Cup-bound team's task will be any easier. "Guardiola's having a terrific debut season and I understand the importance of him leaving out some of his players. But the lads he puts in will be terrifically motivated to do well and prove themselves so it will be a good, tough match."