Messi-Ronaldo clash to fire up European tie

BARCELONA • Lionel Messi's rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo has enthralled football for the better part of a decade, and the pair will duel for the first time in the group stage when Barcelona host Juventus in the Champions League today.

Both teams have already qualified for the last 16 so the clash will simply decide which team claims top spot in Group G.

With the hosts leading by three points and a superior goal difference, Barca are almost guaranteed to emerge as group winners unless Juve score at least three goals and win by a margin that overturns their 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture in October.

The game, however, will not just be a dead rubber for Ronald Koeman's men. With four defeats this season, Barca are floundering in La Liga, and the team are in search of a confidence booster at the Nou Camp.

At his virtual pre-match press conference yesterday, the Barca coach said: "Our objective is to play well and win each game. We won 2-0 away at their ground and took all three points, so for that reason, we have a great chance of finishing first in the group."

"We are missing important players. We will have to look to do the best we can, both technically and tactically, as well as being fresh. Against Juventus, we will put out a strong side because we want to finish first in the group."

Winger Ousmane Dembele, who picked up a hamstring injury in their defeat by Cadiz over the weekend, has been ruled out while Gerard Pique and Ansu Fati remain out for the long term.

However, the worsening injury situation is not an excuse for a sequence of costly defensive howlers in their past three away league games, Koeman insisted.

The Dutchman, who remains under pressure after an underwhelming start since being appointed in August, added: "You always have to analyse defeats. You have to look at how they are scoring and our effectiveness out there on the field. If I lose, I am angry.

"I think being at Barca, we can't accept some of the goals that we have conceded in certain games.

"The players know we have to improve certain things. We want to find a balance between performance, effectiveness and not making so many mistakes at the back."

On facing Ronaldo, who missed the game in Turin due to a positive Covid-19 test, he said: "For us, it's not a motivating factor (to face him).

"They (Juve) are a big team and there are two big teams fighting to be top of the group.

"Cristiano is one of the best, he always battles and always scores. He is still at the top due to him working hard every day.

"It's great (Barca captain) Messi and Cristiano are at the top level... They are both players to admire."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2020, with the headline 'Messi-Ronaldo clash to fire up European tie'. Subscribe