Josep Guardiola could field a host of fresh signings in his competitive bow as FC Barcelona coach as, not for the first time, they play Wisła Kraków for a group spot.
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Wisła were beaten 5-3 on aggregate by Barcelona in a thrilling tie in 2001, just months after Josep Guardiola had left the Blaugrana after more than a decade at the club. Yet the former midfielder is now ready for his competitive debut as head coach, and one of his first signings, midfielder Seydou Keita, is calling on the home fans to ensure there are no slip-ups in their bid for a 13th UEFA Champions League group stage campaign. "The fans form part of this club and their help is very important," the former Sevilla FC player said. "If we fight at every moment they understand what we are doing and they will know that there will be high points and low points during the game. The most important thing is to give our all."
His fellow summer arrivals Gerard Piqué, Daniel Alves, Martín Cáceres and Aleksandr Hleb are also helping for a chance to shine against Wisła. Lionel Messi is at the Olympics and Víctor Sánchez is a serious doubt with a sprained ankle, but Keita is confident that the new-look team has gelled. "The objective of pre-season was to enable us to hit the ground running," he said. "We've been preparing well and getting to know our opponents but the most important thing is how we perform." Guardiola gave fans some good news on the eve of the game by announcing that Samuel Eto'o will definitely stay for the coming season.
Wisła showed they were able to raise their game last week when they met Beitar Jerusalem FC in Poland. Trailing the second qualifying round tie 2-1 they produced a superb 5-0 win to earn their trip to Spain. On Saturday they began the Ekstraklasa season with a 1-0 victory against KS Polonia Bytom but Cléber and Piotr Brożek both suffered injury. Wisła coach Maciej Skorża should have the Brazilian defender available, but the midfielder is a doubt.
Arkadiusz Glowacki was already out with a knee injury suffered in Jerusalem, and Skorża admits they are missing "a central character in our team". Nevertheless he is determined that Wisła, making a fifth attempt to get past this round in eight years, will show as much pride as in the home first leg against Barcelona in 2001 when the Polish side led three times only to be pipped 4-3. "We have nothing to lose," Skorża said. "I wouldn't like my players to lose to a team because of their prestige. Of course we could lose because we are talking about football. We are meeting a team that makes mistakes too. They have a lot of pressure, much more than us. I'm sure they'll have moments of hesitation and, if we profit can from them..."