Pennant powered up to deliver hefty shock to Barcelona

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The Independent Football

Jermaine Pennant plays the biggest game of his career since leaving Liverpool in the summer as Real Zaragoza take on Barcelona at the Nou Camp tomorrow night.

England's only representative in La Liga still dreams of an international call-up citing Ian Wright as proof that a 26-year-old can win his first cap. He knows a dazzling display against the European champions would shine the spotlight his way again.

Pennant said: "The season we [Liverpool] got to the Champions League final in 2007 was the closest I've come to a call-up. Now Fabio Capello is in charge. He knows the football here and if he comes he is only coming to watch one player."

That Champions League final defeat to Milan, in which Pennant not only played but was arguably Liverpool's best performer, should have been the platform to greater things. Instead a divide opened up between player and coach Rafa Benitez summed up by Pennant recently with the quote "Why don't you just open me up and put the batteries in Rafa?" in reference to Benitez's never-ending stream of instructions from the touchline.

Pennant is now playing with much more freedom under the Zaragoza manager Marcelino who even if he were to bark orders would struggle to be understood – the coach speaks no English and Pennant still very little Spanish.

Secure in the confidence of his new coach, the English winger is enjoying Spain's over-protective referees and some welcomed anonymity off the pitch.

"Away from the game the lifestyle is so different," Pennant said. "People leave you alone. And the refereeing is something else. I often think 'Did I really get a free-kick for that?' It is better for players who want to play football. All you do is give it a little squeal and you win a free-kick."

There will be no Thierry Henry in the Barça side tomorrow night as the former Arsenal striker has a hamstring injury. Pennant added: "He is definitely one of the best players I have ever played with. He was frightening that year in 2004." Pennant's time with Arsenal is now long gone but the player has not forgotten the faith that manager Arsène Wenger once had in his ability.

"He would always tell me what talent I had," he said. "There was so much hype around me at the time. I thought I should be playing every week and I got frustrated and I lost the plot.

"This is a new start. It's my first season here so it is all about the team doing well and me reminding people that I am still about – playing well and maybe even pushing for England."

Player of the week: Mario Balotelli

*Mario Balotelli should start for Internazionale tonight against Catania despite being linked with a move to Arsenal and upsetting coach Jose Mourinho.

The Italy Under-21 star, who scored last week against Genoa, has already clashed with his manager over the time it took for Mourinho to bring him on for Diego Milito against Udinese and after being sent off in the Champions League. "It's a generational thing," said Mourinho. "The boy who doesn't think about the money and buying a Ferrari is the exception. It's the people around them that make them feel like victims."

Everyone's talking about... Atletico Madrid

*Chelsea's 4-0 drubbing of Atletico Madrid was too much for the club's directors who sacked coach Abel Resino last night and replaced him with former Valencia and Benfica manager Quique Sánchez Flores. The new man has been given until the end of the season to sort out the mess. Atletico, who face Mallorca tonight, are just one point above the relegation zone and bottom of their Champions League group.

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