Thursday, April 3, 2008

Messi eyes United return

Barcelona ace Lionel Messi has set his sights on a return to action against Manchester United in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Messi is back to fitness after picking up a hamstring injury in the win over Celtic last month.

The 20-year-old schemer has returned to Spain after undergoing rehabilitation in his native Argentina and he says he is close to returning to action.

Barcelona and Manchester United are in line to face each other in the last four of the Champions League after picking up away wins in the first leg of their quarter-finals clashes with Schalke and Roma respectively.

Messi is chomping at the bit to play again and has got his eye on a possible clash with Premier League leaders United.

In good shape

"I am good and can't wait to be back to action with my team-mates," he told El Mundo Deportivo. "There have been weeks of intense work in Rosario, training in the mornings and evenings every day.

"I feel strong and confident, I can't wait to play! I hope I will be able to play the Champions League semi-finals, and face one of the best teams in the world: Manchester (United).

"Now I return to Barcelona and I hope I will be part of the squad, at least to play few minutes."

Barcelona president Laporta settles on Guardiola

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has already decided to replace coach Frank Rijkaard at the end of this season with Pep Guardiola, it has been revealed.
TV3 says Rijkaard will remain in charge until the end of the season, where he will make way for Barcelona B coach Guardiola. Guardiola's No2, Tito Vilanova, will be promoted to head coach of the B team.

Luis Enrique is also under consideration as Guardiola's No2 for next season.

Youth Football Products in Europe

Six players who have come through the youth football set up at Barça played in Gelsekirchen. In the rest of the quarter finals the highest number of youth team products in the other sides was two.

The fact that Barça are a club who like to blood players from the youth system is no secret. They proved this very fact in the first leg of their quarter final tie against Schalke 04 as Barça were the club with the most youth team products on the field of the eight clubs that remain in the competition. In Tuesday’s game at the Veltins Arena, the six players in the squad who have come up through the youth ranks at Barça made an appearance.

As many as six

Valdés, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and Bojan were all in the starting 11. Those five players were on the field together for 85 minutes, and for three minutes, thanks to the appearance of Giovani Dos Santos in the 82nd minute, there were six products of the youth system on the field together at the Veltins Arena. In the 85th minute Bojan was replaced by Sylvinho.

Some of the best performances on the night came from those players schooled in the Barça way from an early age: Bojan Krkic, the scorer of the only goal of the game, brought freshness to the side’s strike force and his goal has put Barça in control in the tie. Andrés Iniesta, for his part, provided the pass for Thierry Henry to set up Bojan with the chance that he tucked away past keeper Neuer. Víctor Valdés was another who stood out; his valuable contribution helped Barça keep a clean sheet.

The other matches

In Tuesday’s other game in Italy between Roma and Manchester United a total of four youth team products were on show: De Rossi and Aquliani for the Italians and Paul Scholes and Wes Brown for the side from Manchester. There was not one in the duel between Fenerbahce and Chelsea in Istambul, and in London at the Emirates Stadium Arsenal could not manage a single youth product whereas Liverpool boasted the talents of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard.

Schalke, Barça’s opponents in the quarter finals, had Neuer and Pander as players who have come through the youth system at the Gelsenkirchen club.

Xavi continues making history

Xavi Hernández moved into fourth place in the FC Barcelona all-time record appearance list when he placed in the Champions League encounter against Schalke 04 in midweek.

The Catalan midfielder edged above Andoni Zubizarreta as he made his 411th appearance for the Blaugrana, beating the esteemed goalkeeper by one match. His next targets now are to match Guillermo Amor’s record 421 matches and then Carles Rexach’s total of 452. The outright leader still is Migueli, who placed 548 games for Barça.

Since making his debut in the summer of 1998, Xavi has made 277 league appearances, 77 in the Champions League, 13 in the UEFA Cup, 36 in the Copa del Rey, two in the Club World Cup, one in the European Super Cup and another five in the Spanish Super Cup.

Puyol on the list

Another current member of the Barça first team is in the top ten as Carles Puyol’s tally of 385 matches for the club sees his him just Asensi.

Barcelona's Eto'o: If Ronaldinho says he's hurt, he's hurt

Samuel Eto'o says Frank Rijkaard is the right man in charge at Barcelona and also insists he wants to make "peace" with teammate Ronaldinho.

The Cameroon striker said: "We must leave Ronaldinho in peace. If Ronie says that he is hurt, then he is hurt. The doctors did not see anything, but not every injury can be seen.

"I play with a knee that hurts me, but nothing can be seen in a scan.

"It is important to believe what Ronie says and not look for whether he goes out a lot at night."

On Rijkaard, Eto'o added: "Rijkaard is the trainer that we need. Others sometimes want to crush you, but he always tries to be positive."

FC Barcelona: official statement

The following statement has been issued by FC Barcelona concerning the future of our chief football coach Frank Rijkaard.

"FC Barcelona emphatically denies that a decision has been taken to replace the football coach, Frank Rijkaard, for the next season. The Dutch manager has a contract until the 2009 season and the Board of Directors has complete confidence in him”.

Messi arrives in Barcelona on Thursday

The Argentinian striker will arrive at El Prat airport on Thursday evening after completing the second stage of his recovery programme in his native country.

Leo Messi will be travelling directly to the Camp Nou for a medical examination by the FC Barcelona specialists. Once the tests are over, he will attend to the media in the stadium’s press rooms.

The injury

Messi injured the femoral biceps in his left thigh on March 4 against Celtic in the Champions League second round, second leg.

He was expected to be sidelined for some six weeks.

Recovery schedule

Since then, the Club Medical Services have been keeping a very close eye on the player. His recovery has been planned in three stages. The immediate treatment was administered in Barcelona, and then he went to Argentina for three weeks, where he trained for the last time on Wednesday. From now on, Messi will be completing his treatment schedule in the Catalan capital.