Barca gets Pep talk before Lyon
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola did not seem very concerned after Saturday's loss to struggling Espanyol snapped the team's 22-match league unbeaten streak.
Barca had not lost a league match since August, going 19-0-3 in La Liga and an amazing 29-1-14 in all competitions, with the lone loss in a meaningless match against Shakhtar Donetsk in the last game of the Champions League group stage.
Incredibly, Barca outscored its opponents 100-29 during the 35-game stretch.
So, Guardiola was rather calm after the disappointing loss, which came just a few days before the start of the Champions League knockout stage.
"We'll get back up again, dust ourselves down and get on with the job. I'm in no doubt," said Guardiola, in his first season as Barca's coach.
Guardiola did not put too much stock in the loss, knowing it could actually turn into a plus for the team, which had been on cruise control for months.
Barca magician Lionel Messi, who leads Barca with 25 goals in all competitions, agreed.
"It's good we have the Champions [League] coming up," Messi said.
Lionel Messi leads Barca with 25 goals in all competitions.
Barcelona has no time to dwell on the loss to Espanyol, which needed the win just to climb off the bottom of the La Liga standings. And with its focus on Lyon soon after the loss, Gerard Pique thinks Barca will quickly return to form.
"In Lyon," Pique said, "we have to show that we're going to win the Champions League."
Lyon enters the first leg riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, but Brazilian defender Cris knows Barcelona is a big step up from Ligue 1.
"Barcelona, well it's another competition," Cris said. "Everyone dreams about this competition, but we are ready. We all know it is going to be difficult but we can get something out of this match."
Lyon coach Claude Puel would not make any predictions, and he knows his team has a lot of work to do to slow down Barcelona.
"It's the most difficult draw we could have faced, given that Barca is the best team in the world at the moment," Puel said. "It'll be difficult for us, but I think we have a chance if we play as a team and produce good football. Barca has some great individual players, but we have a great team.
"We can produce some great football, and we need to play as a team in order to win."
Barcelona has some concerns with Eric Abidal and Andres Iniesta - who have combined for 38 starts - both recently sidelined. Iniesta missed the Espanyol match and Abidal picked up an injury Saturday that will keep him out for eight weeks.
Lyon also had success against Barcelona last season in France, drawing 2-2 during the group stage of the Champions League.
But, Barcelona's loss to Espanyol was really the worst possible result for Lyon. Expect the Spanish giants to bounce back, and with Messi, Samuel Eto'o (24 goals in all competitions) and Thierry Henry (14 goals) on the loose, a huge win is possible.
With the first legs of the knockout stage starting Tuesday, Barcelona is the team to beat. So, it gets the top ranking out of the 16 teams remaining. Lyon, well, its closer to the bottom, ranking 13th.
Barcelona should take the lead in the first leg in France, then go back to Spain in two weeks and send the seven-time French champions packing with a convincing win in the second leg.
PREDICTION: Barcelona advances on aggregate, 6-1.
Following is a glance at the rest of the Round of 16 knockout stage matches taking place Tuesday and Wednesday with series predictions (overall ranking in parentheses):
(2) MANCHESTER UNITED vs. (3) INTER MILAN
The best pairing in this round, defending champion United puts its 19-match Champions League unbeaten streak on the line in Milan. United had its 14-game EPL shutout run ended Saturday and they are very thin in the back with Nemanja Vidic suspended as well as Wes Brown and Gary Neville out injured. Inter has been on a roll in Italy, losing just one of its last 19 with wins against AC Milan, Juventus and Roma during that stretch. Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano punish United in the first leg in Italy on Tuesday? That will likely determine if Inter advances.
PREDICTION: Aggregate 1-1; United advances on penalty kicks.
(10) ROMA vs. (6) ARSENAL
Roma won its group, finishing ahead of Chelsea, and is 6-1-2 in its last nine in Italy's Serie A. But, Roma is 16 points off the pace set by Inter and has dropped its games against Inter Milan and Juventus by combined scores of 6-0. Arsenal is unbeaten in its last 12 in England, but hasn't scored a goal in its last three and that needs to change Tuesday. New addition Andrei Arshavin is the wild card here; if he can spark the offense, the Gunners are a sleeper.
PREDICTION: Arsenal advances on aggregate, 3-2.
(11) FC PORTO vs. (16) ATLETICO MADRID
FC Porto finished group play with three straight wins to overtake Arsenal for the top spot and is 9-0-3 in its last 12 in Portugal entering Tuesday's first leg. Atletico has been in a major slump, going just 1-4-3 in its last seven in Spain, but striker Sergio Aguero is the most exciting player in this matchup.
PREDICTION: Aggregate 3-3; FC Porto advances on away goals.
(5) LIVERPOOL vs. (4) REAL MADRID
In another clash that could easily be a Champions League final, Liverpool may be in trouble if captain Steven Gerrard is unable to play Wednesday. Liverpool has just one loss in the EPL, and is unbeaten in 15 straight but faces a tough opener in Spain before returning to Anfield. Real Madrid has been one of the hottest teams in Europe, winning nine straight - with seven shutouts during that run - and needs a win in the first leg at the Bernabeu.
PREDICTION: Real Madrid advances on aggregate, 3-1.
(7) JUVENTUS vs. (8) CHELSEA
Juventus defeated Real Madrid twice in the group stage, but was just 1-0-3 in its other four matches. Juve remains second in Serie A to Inter, and is 3-1-2 in its last six league matches. Chelsea was falling apart before Luiz Felipe Scolari was fired, but the team responded to new coach Guus Hiddink by ending Aston Villa's 13-game unbeaten streak on Saturday. Chelsea has struggled vs. the top teams in England, though, going just 0-4-1 combined against United, Arsenal and Liverpool.
PREDICTION: Aggregate 3-3; Juventus advances on away goals.
(14) PANATHINAIKOS vs. (9) VILLARREAL
Panathinaikos finished with three straight wins in the group stage, including a win over Inter Milan, to win the group and has a distinct home field advantage in Greece. Villarreal played like a contender in the group stage, earning two draws against Manchester United, but has seen its form dip in Spain with just three wins in its last 11 games.
PREDICTION: Villarreal advances on aggregate, 4-1.
(12) BAYERN MUNICH vs. (15) SPORTING LISBON
Bayern has struggled since the winter break in Germany, losing three of its four matches. Despite the results, Bayern has played well in three of those games and, if it regains its touch in front of goal, is the favorite. Sporting is 7-1-3 in its last 11 in Portugal - most recently a win over Benfica - and needs to get a win at home.
PREDICTION: Bayern advances on aggregate, 3-2.