Barca lean on Neymar once more for BATE test
Barcelona can take a big step towards the last 16 of the Champions League for a 12th consecutive season when they travel to face BATE Borisov in the cold of Belarus on Tuesday.
The depleted Catalans will again be without Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, but can count on an on-fire Neymar after he smashed four past Rayo Vallecano in a 5-2 win on Saturday.
Barca boss Luis Enrique described the Brazilian star as “unstoppable” as he has taken on the responsibility of leading the European champions in Messi’s absence.
The player himself proudly declared his performance against Rayo as one of his best for the club as he left the Camp Nou with the match ball signed by all of his teammates at the weekend.
“Hopefully Neymar doesn’t stop and we have to sign a lot more balls for him,” said midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Messi scored twice when the sides last met in Belarus four years ago as Barca cruised to a 5-0 win.
However, the impact of injuries to the Argentine, Iniesta and Rafinha, allied to a one-year ban on registering new players has left Barca with a very stretched squad for a run of six games in 19 days.
A come from behind win against Bayer Leverkusen in their last European outing did at least put Barca back on course for the last 16 after opening their campaign with a 1-1 draw away to Roma.
Enrique’s men will be expected to pick up six points from their two clashes with BATE in the next fortnight with the safety net of knowing Messi will be fit for their final two group games at home to Roma and away to Leverkusen.
“We need to recover well, we have a lot of games in a row and that means we are doing well because you are in all competitions,” added Rakitic.
“We will prepare well for Tuesday and if something hurts a little you just have to grit your teeth and keep going. That is all we can do.”
BATE go into the game against the Spanish giants full of confidence after sealing a 10th consecutive league title on Friday with 2-0 win over Vitebsk.
The Belarusians are also well in the fight to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time in their fifth year in the competition.
A 3-2 win over Roma last time out means Alyaksandr Yermakovich’s side are level with Leverkusen in second place in Group E, just a point behind Barca.
BATE also have Champions League winning experience in their ranks in the form of Alexander Hleb, who was part of the Barca squad that won the competition in 2008/09.