BARCELONA — With Real Madrid crushing virtually all before them and holding a ten-point lead over Barcelona in Spain, the Champions League (UCL) has assumed greater importance for the Catalan club, who are on course to reach the quarter-finals.
Barça entertain Bayer Leverkusen at the Nou Camp tonight holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg.
José Mourinho has converted Real into a formidable force in his second season in Madrid and they have now won 20 out of 21 games domestically with the only defeat coming against Barça at the Bernabeu.
The reigning Champions League and La Liga winners have failed to show the same consistency dropping too many points away from home, but they know that in a one-off match they are still capable of beating anybody.
“It is going to be very tough for us to win the league, but now we must concentrate on Bayer Leverkusen. It has been a difficult season for us with so many injuries which has meant that we have not been able to play at 100%, but little by little we have been improving, said Adriano.
The Brazilian utility player has been involved more than expected recently due to the number of absentees in Pep Guardiola’s squad which has been criticised for being under strength.
In the 3-1 weekend win over Sporting Gijón he played at left-back with Eric Abidal lying in the treatment room, but he has also featured in midfield and in a more attacking role.
“It was an important game for us against Sporting like all of them at the moment as we were able to put the pressure on Madrid, who played afterwards, and we will keep battling in every match until the end of the season trying to pick up as many points as possible.
“In the Champions League now we play Bayer Leverkusen at home after a good win in Germany, but they are a strong squad as they showed at the weekend with a victory over a team like Bayern Munich which shows what they are capable of.”
Seydou Keïta made a notable return to the team after his participation in the African Nations Cup, playing a key role in the victory by helping to set up the first goal for Andrés Iniesta and then scoring the second himself.
Barça played the majority of the second half without Gerard Piqué, who was red-carded and there was bad news for Alexis Sanchez, who limped off and is expected to be out of action for over two weeks.
Guardiola heaped praise on Keïta, an under-stated member of the squad who can be relied upon when given his chance in the team.
“One of the best things that I have experienced since being coach of Barcelona is the possibility to have got to know him and I congratulate him for all that he has done for us,” he said.
“In recent seasons we have won because we have deserved it. You always have to play well to win and we did so after we were down to ten men and drawing the match.”
While Barça are looking to reach the quarter-final for the fifth year in succession, for Bayer it would be the first time since the 2001-2002 campaign when they were beaten in the final by Real Madrid.
Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen (Camp Nou)
Apoel Nicosia v Lyon (G S Pancypria Stadium) — Reuters