MADRID (AP) — Barcelona will try to avoid another surprise in the Champions League, and try to advance to the knockout stage, when it takes on Spartak Moscow on Tuesday.
The Spanish club slipped to a 2-1 loss at Celtic in the last round, but gets another chance to secure advancement with a victory against Spartak. The Russian team has only a theoretical chance of advancing from Group G, with three points from four games.
But Spartak surprised Barcelona by leading 2-1 at the Camp Nou in September before Lionel Messi scored two late goals for a 3-2 win. "Our goal is to qualify for the next round as soon as possible," Barcelona sports director Andoni Zubizarreta said. "We must win on Tuesday for that to happen."
Zubizarreta said the artificial surface at Luzhniki Stadium and the cold temperatures should not pose too big a problem for Barcelona. "Our players have played on artificial turf when they were in the youth academy," he said, adding that the team knows it will be cold in Moscow.
Barcelona's defense will be almost at full strength, with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique back. "We've recovered Puyol and Pique and we have (Javier) Mascherano and (Alex) Song," Zubizarreta said. Marc Batra, however, will be sidelined for 15-20 days due to a leg injury he sustained after coming on as a late substitute during the team's 3-1 home win over Real Zaragoza on Saturday.
"We know it's practically impossible to have a fully fit squad at any given moment," Zubizarreta said. Spartak played to 1-1 draw with Russian league outsider Volga on Saturday and remains fifth in the league standings with 29 points from 16 games, 10 points behind leader CSKA Moscow.
"We wanted to play our game, but Volga denied us," Spartak coach Unai Emery said. "They looked stronger in many components of the game. And it raises questions ahead of the match with Barcelona." Spartak goalkeeper Andrey Dikan and his replacements Sergei Pasyakov and Artem Rebrov are all injured, causing Emery a headache.
Spartak striker Artem Dzyuba will also miss the game with a hamstring injury he picked up during practice ahead of the game against Volga, while midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov underwent groin surgery in Germany last week.
Benfica's defense will be strengthened for its home match against Celtic by the return of Brazil international Luisao, suspended for two months by UEFA after a pre-season clash with a referee. But Uruguayan right-back Maxi Pereira is doubtful with a right thigh injury and the Lisbon club's four key Argentine players — midfielders Enzo Perez and Pablo Aimar, central defender Ezequiel Garay, and striker Eduardo Salvio — also have questions marks over their fitness.
Attacking duties will likely fall to Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo and Brazilian teammate Lima. The pair have combined for 18 goals in official matches this season, helping put the team at top of the Portuguese league alongside FC Porto after nine rounds.
Benfica is unbeaten in the domestic competition, but has failed to reproduce that form in Europe, where it has won once in four games. It drew 0-0 in Glasgow. "I have complete faith in all my squad and we're going through a period of strong form," Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said.
Celtic returns to Lisbon — the city where it won the European Cup in 1967 — looking for a victory to clinch a place in the knockout stage for the third time. A scoring draw is enough if Barcelona beats Spartak.
Second-place Celtic is still buoyant after its much celebrated 2-1 win over Barcelona two weeks ago. "We are in a great position," Celtic assistant coach Johan Mjallby said. "There is more pressure on Benfica because they really need to win."