Barcelona show strength ahead of trophy defence
Monday, September 14, 2015
"We're really up for returning to the Champions League," said Javier Mascherano as Barcelona prepare to start their title defence fresh from a weekend win at Atlético Madrid.
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Barcelona will begin the defence of their UEFA Champions League crown this week buoyed by a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Atlético Madrid that continued their perfect start to the Liga season.
No team has ever retained the European Cup in the UEFA Champions League era, but Barça visit Roma on Wednesday having already showed that they are in hungry mood again this term.
They triumphed at the Vicente Calderón despite having to make a number of changes, with Claudio Bravo and Daniel Alves both out – and due to miss the Roma game – while Gerard Piqué continued his suspension and Lionel Messi started on the bench following the international break.
"It was a difficult game against a hard opponent under tricky circumstances given we've been away with our national sides," said Javier Mascherano. Indeed, Luis Enrique's men had to fight back after falling behind to Fernando Torres's 51st-minute opener.
With Thomas Vermaelen having hobbled off in the first-half, Tiago's incisive pass split the nascent partnership between Mascherano and Jérémy Mathieu at the back, leaving Torres to extend his record to nine goals in 15 games against the Blaugrana.
The fightback began just four minutes later, though, with Neymar levelling the scores. Once Messi entered the fray, Barcelona then began to dominate possession in their vintage style – and it was only a matter of time before the 28-year-old settled the game. He and Piqué will likely return to the Barça lineup in Rome, and Mascherano says the Catalan giants are raring to defend their trophy.
"We're really up for returning to the Champions League, a competition that's very special for us," said the Argentinian international. "Roma play football. This sometimes works well for us, but they're a quality side and we know they're going to play their game from the off and fight for every ball.
"They are a side with tradition and, above all, we know how hard it is to go to Italy and play. Tactically, they're teams that defend well and it's not easy to score against them. It will be a difficult game for us."
As for Atlético, they must now travel to Istanbul to tackle Galatasaray on Tuesday, and they will be eager to avoid a repeat of their matchday one loss at Olympiacos last season. Coach Diego Simeone admitted Barcelona "dominated" the game on Saturday, and defender José María Giménez feels the Colchoneros need to improve if they are to get a result.
"As with each and every Champions League game, it will be intense," he said. "We know that we have to correct the things that went badly for us if we're to play a good game."