Luis Enrique believes the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the Nou Camp gives Barcelona all the impetus they need to not get complacent against Paris Saint-Germain.
Barca triumphed 3-1 in Paris last week but Enrique believes they could still be in danger if they take their foot off the gas in tonight’s second leg at the Nou Camp. Enrique specifically cited the return of former Barca striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic from suspension as a reason for vigilance.
Ibrahimovic, 33, scored 21 goals in 45 games during a solitary season in Catalonia under Pep Guardiola in 2009/10 but never adapted to Barca’s style of play and left under a considerable cloud, later mocking Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi in his autobigraphy.
Enrique said: “Ibrahimovic is a different type of striker, who is capable of scoring from anywhere. He connects with his team-mates very well and is one of the best forwards in the world today. He is no stranger to us and gives us an extra reason to play well.
Enrique has the luxury of a full squad to choose from with Dani Alves back from missing last week’s first leg through suspension, while Iniesta has been passed fit after suffering pelvic bruising in Paris and subsequently sitting out Barca’s weekend league win over Valencia.
The match-winning hero last week was Luis Suarez, who scored two brilliant goals at the Parc des Princes and then continued his hot streak with the opener in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Valencia. With five goals in his last four games, Suarez believes he is in the best form of his Barca career to date, but also admits he was not happy with his early performances.
“I am very self-critical and for a while I felt I wasn’t helping the team,” he said. “But everyone gave me support and that gave me the strength to go forward. I went a long time without playing at first and it took me a while, but now I feel I am contributing.”
PSG will be without Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta through injury, but key midfielder Marco Verratti joins Ibrahimovic in returning from suspension.
In the last 25 years, Bayern Munich have won 13 Bundesligas and have never gone more than four years without lifting the Deutsche Meisterschale.
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Although not as prolific in the DFB Pokal, they have still claimed the trophy nine times during the same period – four times more than the next most successful club, Werder Bremen.
Since arriving at the Allianz Arena he has won both competitions and bar an almighty collapse, will successfully defend the Bundesliga over the next fortnight and face Borussia Dortmund in the cup semi-finals later this month.
In short, Guardiola is a little over par in his tenure as Bayern Munich boss. Which sounds ridiculous but the Catalan was brought to the club for much more than just what is expected of a Bayern coach.
At Barcelona he created perhaps the greatest club side the world has seen, permeated by an identity and method of playing that ran contrary to the overtly-physical approach dominating the game towards the end of the last decade.
Barca were rewarded for their excellence with 14 trophies during his reign including two Champions League titles – in 2009 and 2011 – and it is that crown the Bayern hierarchy, like at Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and so many others, crave the most.
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Not because the Bundesliga has become a cakewalk, but because it’s the Champions League or European Cup which define eras and iconic sides.
Bayern have had their’s in the past: the 1974-1976 side of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner, Sepp Maier and Uli Hoeness which won three European Cups in succession.
And while they’ve lifted ‘Old Big Ears’ in 2001 and 2013, it’s about sustained success on the continent and creating a new legend in helping establish themselves as the best football team on the planet, not just in Germany. So far, Guardiola has fallen a little short of expectations.
Tonight, to fulfil not just the desires of the Bayern board and fans but also his own, Guardiola’s side must become the first in club history to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit.
As Thomas Muller pointed out yesterday, 2-0 to Bayern is not such a big surprise, but they are up against a Porto side unbeaten in the competition and playing an exhilarating brand of free-flowing offensive football which has seen them go 15 matches since they last failed to score. One may be all it needs with away goals such a priceless commodity.
That would especially not be such a surprise, given how Bayern teams have defended under Guardiola in Europe.
In the first leg there were some dreadful errors – Dante in particular – and a total breakdown in the system as Porto’s pace cut through them.
It was eerily reminiscent of the second leg of last season’s semi-final against Madrid where they were ripped apart by the velocity of Real’s counter-attacks and Guardiola’s suicidal high line.
Twice losing 3-2 to Manchester City – at the Allianz last season and Etihad this term – also stand out, and for all their wonderful midfield interplay ala Barca, married with Teutonic steel and the attacking capabilities of Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Muller and friends, there remains a fragile core.
Guardiola needs a big result tonight. It’s extremely unlikely, verging on nigh impossible he’ll walk away if they didn’t progress tonight, but failure at a club like Bayern is simply unacceptable.
If anyone had suggested in May 2013, when Ricardo Quaresma was released by Al Ahli just four months into his hugely disappointing spell in the UAE, that less than two years later he would star in the Champions League quarter-finals, they would have been laughed at. Quaresma’s career seemed to be in ruins. No club would sign an ageing player whose physical fitness and mental stability were very much uncertain.
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Indeed, he spent half a season without a team, and was totally forgotten when Porto suddenly decided to give him a chance – the very last chance to salvage at least a tiny part of his divine potential. That was a huge gamble, and it has paid off handsomely. At the age of 31, Quaresma is enjoying a superb spell, which was highlighted by the brace he scored just ten minutes into Porto’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Bayern Munich, inspiring the Dragons to a 3-1 win. On Tuesday he arrives to Allianz Arena, hoping to finish off the job.
Quaresma will always be remembered as a classic case of “what could have been”. When promoted from the famous Alcochete academy to Sporting Lisbon’s first team at the tender age of 17, he was touted as the next big thing in European football, the natural heir to Luis Figo. Blessed with incredible ball control and lightning speed, he was unstoppable on the wing, and played a significant role as the Lions won the league title in 2002, the club’s last triumph.
At the time, Cristiano Ronaldo, 16 months younger than Ricardo, was also taking his first steps – though Quaresma was considered by most of the pundits to be the more talented of the duo. In the summer of 2003, Barcelona and Manchester United considered signing both, and at one stage, Quaresma was quite close to moving to Old Trafford. He would likely have developed very differently had that happened, but in the end he headed for Camp Nou, with Sir Alex Ferguson opting for Cristiano.
While Ronaldo was ready for the big move mentally, proving himself step by step and gradually developing into superstar, Quaresma assumed that his raw natural talent will be enough to make him a world beater. Frank Rijkaard thought differently, and by the end of his first season Quaresma, disappointed with the amount of playing time, issued an incredible ultimatum, saying that he would never play under the Dutchman again. Naturally, Barca immediately offloaded him to Porto as part of the deal that sent Deco to Catalonia.
That attitude proved to be Quaresma’s downfall everywhere he went outside of his homeland. Jose Mourinho was certain that he would be able to tame his compatriot and convinced Inter to pay more than Dhs70 million (€18m) for his services upon arriving to San Siro in the summer of 2008. The Special One failed miserably, and Quaresma barely played for him.
In retrospect, the winger claimed that moving to Italy was his biggest mistake. “My happiness and self confidence were taken away from me. I felt on the margins of the squad and woke up crying when I had to attend training sessions,” Ricardo told Publico newspaper in 2010, upon leaving Inter for Besiktas, but he had only himself to blame. His loan spell at Chelsea was so forgettable that few at Stamford Bridge are able to even recall him staying there.
The years at Besiktas were not a total disaster, but Quaresma angered many a team-mate with his arrogance and selfishness. Eventually, he attacked the club’s Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal for substituting him. “I brought you here,” he shouted at his compatriot. That wasn’t entirely wrong, by the way, because the club desperately wanted to make Quaresma feel comfortable, but the incident proved to be costly. When the relationship between the winger and the club deteriorated, there were claims by Besiktas executives regarding allegedly extreme behaviour by the Portuguese, which included urinating on training ground staff.
He was released from his contract in late 2012, and in such circumstances an opportunity at Al Ahli was a blessing for him. Unfortunately, even that didn’t work out, and that was expected to be the final straw. Then, seven long months later, Porto entered the scene in January 2014.
The fans didn’t really know what to think. On one hand, Quaresma was brilliant during his four years at Estadio do Dragao, between 2004 and 2008. Nicknamed Harry Potter for his magic, he won three league titles and was voted Player of the Year in 2006, even though that wasn’t enough for Luiz Felipe Scolari to include him in Portugal’s World Cup squad. On the other hand, his potential contribution was extremely questionable, while his influence on the dressing room could potentially be disastrous.
Former Porto star Jaime Magalhaes was highly critical of the move, claiming that Quaresma was finished. However, Laszlo Boloni, the coach who gave the winger his debut at Sporting, was much more positive. “At Dragao, Quaresma will recover again,” he said. Boloni was right.
Crucially, the player himself realised how lucky he was to be given the chance. “I am proud to wear this jersey again, and I'd like to thank the chairman Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa and the coach Paulo Fonseca for believing in me and in my value,” he said ahead of the first training session. Fonseca was impressed: “I am pleased to see Ricardo’s motivation and enthusiasm”. The coach didn’t last in the job himself and was fired in March 2014, but his protégé stayed and produced one great performance after another.
It was Quaresma at his best again – quick, full of imaginative tricks, but most importantly very dedicated to the team. He scored 10 goals in just 24 games, and the level of his play was such that many pundits called for him to be included in the World Cup squad. Paulo Bento decided differently, and paid the price when Portugal were sent packing after the group stage.
"For years, Quaresma believed his magic was fundamental to the teams he represented. Everything had to be done his way. We see a different Quaresma now – a complete player and a team player."
That was a very bright start, but there was room for even more remarkable progress this term. Julen Lopetegui, the new coach who was free to overhaul the squad after the disappointing season, could have discarded Quaresma but decided to give him more responsibilities instead. The Spaniard made it clear that he expectsed the winger to perform in defence as well, and succeeded where Mourinho failed.
In a recent interview with Porto’s official TV channel, Lopetegui claimed that Quaresma it the team’s most improved player, both tactically and mentally, adding: “I feel proud for him”.
Victor Hugo Alvarenga of Maisfutbol wrote: “For years and years, Quaresma believed that his magic was fundamental to the teams he represented. Everything had to be done his way. We see a different Quaresma now – a complete player and a team player. Lopetegui had an important role in this development”.
“Football changes, ideas change, and I had to change,” Quaresma himself said. But who could possibly have believed that this change would happen? How high could he have climbed had it occurred a decade earlier? Could he have been even better than Ronaldo? Now that is impossible, but he is more than happy with what he has.
In 2008, when Porto met Schalke in the last 16 of the Champions League, Quaresma missed a superb chance against Manuel Neuer, and his team eventually lost on penalties. Seven years later, Neuer is a much more established star, but Quaresma beat him this time to double Porto’s lead last week, after stealing the ball from Dante. The winger didn’t lose his head after such a successful start. His new attitude was evident as he covered the whole right wing, equally active offensively and defensively throughout the victory over Bayern.
He is certain to do his utmost for the team on Tuesday as well. Gone are the years of inconsistency. These days, Porto fans know exactly what to expect of him. Given his history, that is a major miracle.