Champions League: We need the fans, says Barca coach Xavi

Barcelona have another chance to secure qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League when they host Porto, and Xavi Hernandez’s side need the fans support for this vital game, the manager said on Monday.

The Spanish side looked to be easing towards a last 16 place after winning their opening three games, but defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in their previous match leaves progress still in doubt, having failed to emerge from the group stage in the last two seasons.

“It’s a very important, vital game for us. It’s up to us to be first,” Xavi told reporters.

“After two years, it’s a great opportunity. We’re playing at home. We need the fans. Hopefully it’s going to be a magical night.

“It’s essential that the fans are there. The last few years, we have suffered. It’s important that they are with the team.”

Barca also failed to win their most recent LaLiga game, drawing 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, which saw them slip to fourth in the table, four points behind leaders Real Madrid.

“Lately, things aren’t going our way, but the Vallecano game was there to be won,” the manager said.

“We created play and in the second half we were more aggressive. We lack continuity in the game, but people are comfortable with the plan. The dressing room is united.”

Xavi is also confident that he has the backing of the club president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco, despite the recent poor results.

“I feel supported by the club in every way. I talk to the president and Deco every day,” Xavi said.

“We have friendships. They believe in the project, they know how we work. I feel total confidence.”

Barcelona are already without midfielder Gavi after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on international duty with Spain, and keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen missed Saturday’s game with a back injury, but could return for the Porto tie.

“Tomorrow Marc will try, let’s see how he is,” Xavi said.

“He hasn’t trained. Tomorrow we’ll try to see if he’s 100%.”

Barca came away from Porto with a 1-0 win in October, and now host the Portuguese side on Tuesday and Xavi knows his team are in for another tough game.

“They’re a team that works hard tactically, they press high and are aggressive.

“In Porto we suffered, they are a very strong opponent.”

Barcelona lead Group H, level on nine points with Porto, while Shakhtar Donetsk are three points behind, and they face bottom club Antwerp on Tuesday.

Ancelotti issues injury update on Bellingham ahead of Real Madrid’s UCL clash

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that star English mid-fielder Jude Bellingham is fine but still struggling with a shoulder injury.

After dislocating his shoulder against Rayo Vallecano earlier this month, Bellingham had to miss out on consecutive games for Los Blancos, the youngster had to also withdraw from England’s final two Euro Qualifiers games as well.

He made his return to the football field against Cadiz on Sunday and didn’t waste any time to put his name up on the scoresheet. He wrapped up the game scoring the third and the final goal of the game at the 74th-minute mark.

But he was substituted shortly afterwards, Ancelotti provided an update on the Englishman and told reporters as quoted from, “Bellingham is fine. He still has the problem he had but he is fine with the protection.”

The 20-year-old’s strike took his tally to 14 goals in 15 games in all competitions since his arrival at the Bernabeu with a hefty price tag. With his 14th goal, he surpassed the former Real Madrid’s iconic striker Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 13 after playing the same number of matches.

With this victory, the Los Blancos sit at the top of the summit of La Liga table with 35 points in 14 games.

Bellingham being deemed unfit by the Real Madrid manager has put him in doubt to feature in the UEFA Champions League clash against Napoli on Wednesday.

Since his arrival in Spain, Bellingham has left a major impression all over Europe with his remarkable goal-scoring spree. His consistent performances were recognized and awarded the Kopa Trophy 2023 at the Ballon d’Or award ceremony in Paris at the end of last month.

The English midfielder received the Kopa Trophy which is awarded to the best U-21 player in the world. 

PSG’s Champions League tie with Newcastle is like a final, says Luis Enrique

Paris St Germain will approach their Champions League game at home to Newcastle United like a final, manager Luis Enrique said on Monday.

PSG find themselves in a delicately poised Group F, where all four sides can still progress, and will hope to make use of home advantage in Tuesday’s game in Paris.

“The Parc des Princes will carry us, I expect a great atmosphere. We really need the fans, we need a warmer and more passionate stadium than normal,” Luis Enrique told a press conference.

“We will play this game like a final. At this level, home games are key matches. The public is a special asset for us, we expect incredible support.”

PSG lost 4-1 when they played Newcastle in October, and after the Premier League side’s 4-1 win over Chelsea on Saturday, Luis Enrique is preparing for another tough challenge.

“They’re very strong physically, they’re able to press hard and very high, there’s a lot of intensity.

“If you saw their last game against Chelsea, the physical date is still at that level. We know that will be the case again tomorrow, we will have to be ready.”

PSG have won their last six league games to take them top of Ligue 1, but the manager still expects more from his side.

“The team is still not what I want it to be, but we’re in a process of discovery, we can get even more out of our players, and we can go even further,” Enrique said.

“But I like what I see already. There is already a lot of satisfaction but still a lot of room for improvement.”

Just three points separate group leaders Borussia Dortmund from bottom club Newcastle, but PSG can secure progress if they defeat the English side and AC Milan fail to win against Dortmund.

“We’re in a difficult, tight group, tomorrow the match is decisive since the group can be decided after the fifth matchday,” Luis Enrique said.

“But everything could also be decided on the last day, but I know my team is ready for tomorrow and can do great things.”

PSG are second in Group F on six points, one point behind Dortmund and one point ahead of Milan, with Newcastle on four points.

Man City’s Gvardiol happy to be on same side as Haaland

The last time Manchester City hosted RB Leipzig is not a night Josko Gvardiol remembers with great fondness.

The Croatia international was then part of a Leipzig defence torn to shreds by City’s attack as Erling Haaland plundered five goals in a 7-0 rout in the Champions League last 16 in March.

Eight months later as the two sides prepare to face each other in the penultimate round of Group G matches in the competition, Gvardiol, who is now part of City’s defence, knows he does not have to worry about a similar night of misery.

At least not from the boots of Haaland.

“I’m happy to be his team mate,” Gvardiol said when asked about the difference between playing against or with Haaland.

“It wasn’t just about Haaland, it was the first team on the pitch (last season), it was a hard game. As a centre back I was looking forward to facing Haaland but it didn’t finish good.

“He scored five goals in 60 minutes. When I saw him getting subbed off I was happy.”

City went on to win the Champions League for the first time and have made a good start in their bid to retain the trophy.

They have a 100% record in the group and a point on Tuesday would seal top spot ahead of Leipzig, who are also assured of their place in the knockout phase.

Haaland reached the 50-goal mark in the Premier League in record time at the weekend and Gvardiol said watching the Norwegian at work is remarkable.

“At the beginning of the game he is nowhere, then he turns up and scores a hat-trick. What he’s done, I don’t understand how but I enjoy him,” the 21-year-old said.

City manager Pep Guardiola could have some more defensive options soon with the news that John Stones is close to a return after being out since early November.

“John Stones is getting better. Not to play, maybe a few minutes. Really close to coming back,” he said.

On Tuesday’s game, Guardiola added that the priority was making sure his side wrap up first place.

“We have to win or draw. The first step is done for both sides, congratulations Leipzig. Important to finish first, prestigious and it means the second leg of the last 16 at home. Not decisive, but a little advantage,” he said.

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