Champions League

Puyol fears resurgent Stuttgart

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Carles Puyol admits Barcelona could struggle if they underestimate in-form Stuttgart in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Barca make the trip to Germany having bounced back from their first league defeat of the season against Atletico Madrid by thumping Racing Santander 4-0 on Saturday night.

That was the Catalan giants' sixth victory in seven league games, but on Tuesday night they will come up against a Stuttgart who are in just as good form.

Stuttgart may still be struggling down in ninth place in the Bundesliga but they too have won six of their last seven and at the weekend thrashed Cologne 5-1 away from home, with Cacau netting four of his side's goals.

When the draw was made back in December, Stuttgart were in the midst of a 10-match winless run in all competitions, but it is a different story now and a wary Puyol said: "They're playing better now and they are a dangerous team.

"If we don't go there focused, we could really have a bad time," added the Barca captainl, who scored one of his side's goals as they beat Stuttgart 2-0 away during the group stages of the 2007/08 Champions League.

Barca have struggled badly with absentees recently and the Champions League holders will again be without Seydou Keita and Eric Abidal for the game.

Key duo Xavi and Dani Alves have at least made the trip to Germany, but neither has yet been given the all-clear to return to action following injuries.

Full-back Alves has been absent for a month due to a calf problem while Xavi picked up a thigh injury during the defeat by Atletico that had been expected to keep the Spain international out for around two weeks.

Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was a late withdrawal ahead of Saturday's win over Racing with an ankle problem, has also been included in a 20-man travelling squad in the hope he will be fit to feature.

Stuttgart coach Christian Gross is likely to be without left-back Arthur Boka for both meetings against Barca after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in training prior to the Cologne match that could keep him sidelined for a month.

That was one of the few negatives on what was a memorable weekend for the Bundesliga outfit, which saw striker Cacau make a stunning return from his four-week injury lay-off.

"I was really looking forward to this game after my long break," said Cacau. "And the way the game went makes it particularly beautiful."

Looking ahead to the clash, the Brazilian-born Germany international told Barca TV: "We've got nothing to lose. Barca are favourites and we maybe have a 20 or 30% chance of getting through, but we will be trying to make the most of our opportunities.

"We have to get a good result at home, because when Barca play at home it is very difficult to win. I hope they may be over confident and not commit themselves completely."

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