Barça left to sweat on Henry fitness for crucial tie
Tuesday 22 April 2008
Thierry Henry remains Barcelona's biggest doubt ahead of tomorrow night's Champions League semi-final against Manchester United after missing training for the second day running complaining of a fever.
It has now been over a week since Henry trained properly with his team-mates and, barring a late surprise, he will start on the bench with 17-year-old Bojan Krkic or Portuguese international Deco taking his place.
Bojan, who scored the crucial first-leg goal against Schalke 04 in the last round would be a straight swap, but Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona's coach, has the option of moving the industrious Andres Iniesta further forward and bringing Deco into midfield.
The former Porto player has not played since injuring himself in the warm-up ahead of a match with Villarreal on 9 March but he insisted: "I'm 100 per cent ready, I could even have played at the weekend, it was the coach's decision not to use me."
Deco would be lining-up against his international team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, who he yesterday declared to be "the best player in the world, along with Lionel Messi".
The midfielder admitted that Barça was not a happy camp after such a disappointing league campaign but said everything would, be different against Manchester United. "It is evident that we are not happy but we have to make the most of this game. We have failed in the league but the season is not over yet."
It will be an amazing turnaround for Deco if he starts, having only a fortnight ago been implicated in an unofficial club policy of not picking certain players because of their off-the-pitch behaviour. A high-ranking club official, Xavier Sala Martin, had said: "There are one, two or three players who are isolated from the team and we disguise it by saying they are injured."
Rafa Marquez who, along with Ronaldinho, was understood to be the third of those players, will also start tomorrow night in the absence of the suspended Carles Puyol.
Controversy has never been far away this season and Barcelona go into the game fresh from comments made by Samuel Eto'o that he would leave the club if next season turned into a repeat of this one.
The Cameroon international said: "I have reached as high as I can in Barcelona and in Spain. If next season things stay the same without winning anything here, then I will have to go somewhere else because I want to win things."
Such comments will cause Chelsea and Milan who have both been linked with Eto'o in the past, to prick up their ears.
In a more positive vein the forward added: "We are going to get past United and into the final. We are our own biggest problem. If we play as well as we can, then we will put United in trouble."
Johan Cruyff, the Barcelona legend and ever-willing adviser to Rijkaard, believes the work rate of Eto'o and his fellow strikers will be the key for United's opponents.
"The strikers need to be on top of their defence," Cruyff said. "Where do United have all the talent? From the midfield onwards. Where do they have their worst players? In defence. And by worst I mean technically, not physically.
"So if you know they have their worst players at the back, then you have to put pressure on them. Some good pressure will provoke errors when they are passing the ball, precisely because they are not particularly gifted at it."
The club's former player and coach said he believed the game could be decided by a few errors because, player for player, the teams were so evenly matched. He added: "If United have Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona have Messi. If Ferguson's team has Rooney, we have Eto'o. If they have Tevez, we have Bojan or Henry. Scholes? Iniesta. Rio Ferdinand? Milito. As far as individual talent is concerned there is nothing between the two sides."
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