Luis Enrique has taken 22 players for tomorrow night’s Champions League game against Apoel Nicosia in Cyprus. Andres Iniesta has still not received medical clearance while Thomas Vermaelen noticed another twinge in his hamstring yesterday which will again set him back. The Barça coach has named his 21 available first team players for the trip including all three goalkeepers plus Munir El-Haddadi from Barça B.
Barça will be looking for all three points to keep the pressure on Paris Saint Germain who still have a one-point advantage at the top of Group F, but first place in the group will almost certainly be decided when the French Champions visit Camp Nou in the final group game at Camp Nou on December 10. With qualification to the last 16 guaranteed tomorrow’s game may not have the biggest billboard heading but Leo Messi could make history for the second time in a week if he can get on the score-sheet.
Having become the highest ever goalscorer in La Liga with his hat-trick against Sevilla on Saturday Messi can become the highest ever scorer in the Champions League if he finds the net tomorrow. He is currently tied on 71 goals with Raúl Gonzalez with Cristiano Ronaldo just a goal behind on 70 which leaves the possibility that Messi could take the record tomorrow and lose it again on Wednesday if Ronaldo scores two more than him in Real Madrid’s game at FC Basel.
When Apoel visited Camp Nou in September many expected a big home win but the Cyproit team frustrated Barça and only Gerard Piqué managed to score in a 1-0 victory. For that game Luis Enrique gave a rest to Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano and Pedro while giving a first team debut to Sergi Samper who turned out to be the only bright light in an otherwise very poor game.
For tomorrow’s match there will be some changes to the team that beat Sevilla with Ter Stegen starting in goal and Mascherano returning to the team (possibly in midfield?). Dani Alves is a yellow card away from suspension so Adriano could take his place. Elsewhere we could see one of the front three being rested in order to give a start to Pedro or maybe even Munir while Bartra, Rafinha or Sergi Roberto could also get a chance if Luis Enrique wants to rest more regulars.
Apoel have only one point in Group F but they still have the possibility of finishing third and qualifying for the Europa League so there is no chance they will take the game lightly. At the GSP stadium which has a 22,859 capacity, the Cypriot team have drawn 1-1 with Ajax and lost 0-1 against PSG suggesting they will again be difficult to break down tomorrow. Their defensive approach to the game is demonstrated by their last two game in the league in Cyprus which both ended 0-0 against Doxa Katokop and Apollon.
Curiously, Luis Enrique has unhappy memories of Cyprus as in September 1998 he was part of a Spain team that unexpectedly lost 3-2 to the locals in a qualifying match for Euro 2000.
Apoel: Urko Pardo; Mario Sergio, Amorin, Carlao, Antoniades; Tiago Gomes, Vinicius, Nuno Morais, Aloneftis; Sheridan, De Vincenti.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Adriano, Piqué, Bartra, Alba; Xavi, Mascherano, Rakitic; Suarez, Messi, Pedro.
Prediction: Apoel 0 Barça 2
Date: Tuesday 25 November 2014. Kick-off: 8.45 pm (CET); 9.45 pm local time in Cyprus.