Barca ride on league form

LONDON: Barcelona need their superb league form to rub off in the UEFA Cup against Celtic today if Frank Rijkaard’s side are to overturn a 1-0 deficit and reach the quarter-finals. 

Barcelona, European champions in 1992, extended their winning streak to nine in the Primera Liga on Sunday and sit just six points behind leaders Real Madrid after an indifferent start to the season. 

Celtic, last season’s UEFA Cup runners-up, shaded a tempestuous fourth round, first leg at Celtic Park, a match that was settled by midfielder Alan Thompson’s goal but overshadowed by three red cards. 

IMPORTANT STRIKE: Marseille striker Didier Drogba snatched an away goal to earn a 1-1 draw at Liverpool earlier this month. Marseille are the favourites to reach the quarter-finals.

Argentine playmaker Javier Saviola misses the return after being handed a two-match ban for kicking out at Thompson early in the second half. 

UEFA have also handed one-match suspensions to Celtic goalkeeper Robert Douglas and Barcelona midfielder Thiago Motta, who were sent off after a half-time tunnel bust-up and also miss the match at the Nou Camp. 

Barcelona, still without long-term absentee Patrick Kluivert, are sweating over the fitness of winger Luis Garcia. Celtic also have injury worries over Thompson (hamstring) and Paul Lambert (dead leg) while defender Bobo Balde is suspended. 

Inter Milan, who won this competition three times in the 1990s, welcome back Italy striker Christian Vieri from suspension against Benfica at the San Siro. 

The tie is finely balanced following a goalless draw in Lisbon and Inter boss Alberto Zaccheroni will be relieved that his side ended a five-match winless run by defeating Ancona at the weekend. 

Italy’s other representatives AS Roma face a test of character to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat by Spain’s Villarreal, who have battled through the competition since qualifying from the Intertoto Cup in August. 

The abandonment of Sunday’s Rome derby against Lazio following crowd trouble will not have helped coach Fabio Capello’s preparations, however. 

The return to fitness of Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar should give Spain’s Valencia the edge against Genclerbirligi, though the twice Champions League finalists trail 1-0 from the first leg in Turkey. 

Olympique Marseille and Liverpool meet at the Stade Velodrome and the French side start as favourites to advance after Didier Drogba snatched an away goal to earn his team a 1-1 draw at Anfield. 

The teams enjoyed contrasting fortunes at the weekend, Liverpool defeating lowly Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 as Marseille succumbed 4-3 at Stade Rennes in a defeat that left coach Jose Anigo seething at his defenders. 

“I told them I was really angry. We really have to do something about that because with all due respect to Rennes, Liverpool are not in the same league,” he said. 

PSV Eindhoven and AJ Auxerre both have selection headaches before their meeting at PSV’s Philips Stadium. 

Hamstring injuries deprive the Dutch side of defender Theo Lucius, who scored the equaliser in the 1-1 first-leg draw, and winger Arjen Robben, while Swiss midfielder Johann Vogel is injured. 

Auxerre, already missing injured defenders Philippe Mexes and Johan Radet and midfielders Bonaventure Kalou and Teemu Tainio, could also be without striker Djibril Cisse. 

The French international injured his right foot at the weekend. 

In other ties, Newcastle United will be confident of protecting a 4-1 lead in Spain against struggling Real Mallorca while Girondins Bordeaux take a 3-1 cushion to Belgium to face Club Bruges. 

The final will be held on May 19 in Gothenburg, Sweden. – Reuters 

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