Deco and Messi set to reinforce Barça campaign

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Following Tuesday night's victory in Gelsenkirchen, Barcelona's injury problems look finally to be easing – with Deco preparing to make his comeback at the weekend and Lionel Messi due to return from his native Argentina for the final phase of his rehabilitation.

Still an issue, however, is Ronaldinho's fitness. The Brazilian has been training only intermittently and is unlikely to play in the weekend's La Liga visit of Getafe in case the notoriously unforgiving Nou Camp crowd give him a hard time.

The Barcelona coach, Frank Rijkaard, has been rotating to cover for the slew of injuries, but without any real success, so the return of three of the jewels in the club's crown is vital. Indeed, Deco had hoped to return from a hamstring injury for the game against Schalke, but was advised by doctors to continue working with the team's fitness coach, Paco Seirullo. The Portuguese midfielder should be named in the squad for Sunday's game.

Ronaldinho's return may be some way away yet. He trained for around 20 minutes on Sunday, not at all on Monday and had another short stint on Tuesday. There have been suggestions that he has no reason not to play, turning public opinion against him, and the club do not want to see him jeered by fans.

Messi, meanwhile, is due to return from Argentina today. As well as the imminent return of some of their finest talent, Barcelona's ability to weather some heavy pressure from Schalke 04 in the closing stages of their Champions League win in Gelsenkirchen could also help revive their flagging fortunes.

Barcelona clinched a 1-0 win in the quarter-final first leg thanks to an early strike from forward Bojan Krkic, but although they dominated for much of Tuesday's match they found themselves on the ropes as Schalke piled forward in the closing minutes.

A series of sharp saves from Victor Valdes, some gritty defending from centre back Gabriel Milito and some streetwise time-wasting from captain Carles Puyol helped the visitors to hang on.

"It's about time we gave our fans something to cheer about," Puyol said. "It is an important win for us especially after everything else that has been happening at the moment. I think we're on track in the tie."

Puyol, who was booked for time-wasting, admitted his side had been prepared to drop their usual attacking style in order to win through.

"When you are suffering at the end of a game and the opposition are attacking, time-wasting is one way to cool things down," he said. "I was annoyed that I got booked because I was just waiting for the referee to blow the final whistle when he showed me the card."

Striker Samuel Eto'o said team confidence had been boosted by the fact that, unlike in recent games in Spain, they had managed to hold on for the win.

"We had to work very hard because they pressured us a lot in the second half," he said. "We've been playing quite well recently but we've been losing other games in the closing minutes. When everyone is back from injury, when Messi, Ronaldinho and Deco return to the team, then we can dream about getting to the final in Moscow."

The Schalke 04 coach, Mirko Slomka, said his players would not repeat the error of showing Barcelona too much respect in the second leg. After conceding the early goal to the Catalans in a timid first-half display, the Bundesliga side were unlucky not to score an equaliser after creating a series of excellent chances in the second period.

"Our respect for them lasted for far too long at the start but in the second half we were much more courageous and created a lot of opportunities," Slomka said. "We knew we would have our chances as they have been shipping a lot of goals recently. Obviously we can't start thinking we can play like that for 90 minutes in Barcelona, but on the evidence of the second half I believe we still have a chance. We just have to seize it."

Schalke have struggled to find the net in the Champions League this season, scoring six goals in nine games, but Fabian Ernst and Halil Altintop both went close midway through the second half.

Soren Larsen then squandered a free header and Marcelo Bordon brought a fingertip save from Valdes in the final moments of the match.

"In the Champions League you have to capitalise on chances like the ones we had," Slomka said. "Unfortunately, some of our creative players were injured and we missed them. Maybe one or two will return for the second leg which would help."