Rejuvenated Stuttgart faces Barcelona
The Champions League was something of an afterthought for Stuttgart
as it plunged down the standings in the Bundesliga in the first
half of the season.
But the 2007 German champion has flourished under Christian Gross, the Swiss coach who replaced the fired Markus Babbel. Stuttgart has won six of eight games under Gross, with one draw and one defeat and is also in the Champions League Round of 16, where it faces title holder Barcelona on Tuesday.
"We are looking forward to playing one of the best teams in the world," Gross said. "There is a lot of prestige at stake. I hope the fans will go home with a good feeling."
"We've got nothing to lose," he added.
Stuttgart warmed up for the Champions League by winning 5-1 at Cologne in the Bundesliga. Cacau, in his first game since recovering from a groin injury that had kept him sidelined for a month, scored four goals. The Brazilian-born striker, who has occasionally played for Germany, hopes to make the German World Cup squad.
Gross has used Pavel Pogrebnyak and Ciprian Marica as his starting forwards. Marica was suspended for the Cologne game and now that Cacau is back and scoring, Gross may use him in the staring lineup.
Sami Khedira, another occasional Germany player, has recovered from a thigh injury and should take his place in the midfield, likely forcing Zdravko Kuzamnovic to return to the bench.
Meanwhile, defender Arthur Boka is out with a dislocated shoulder. Cristian Molinaro, the new arrival from Juventus, will probably take Boka's place on the left.
Barcelona rebounded from its first league defeat of the season with a routine 4-0 victory over Racing Santander on Saturday, although coach Pep Guardiola was not completely content.
"We have to play better in Germany to guarantee a result," Guardiola said. "It's always important to get a win after a defeat."
Midfielder Xavi Hernandez and defender Daniel Alves were both included in the team for Tuesday's game even though they continue to recover from leg-muscle injuries.
The Spanish champions are missing defender Eric Abidal and midfielder Seydou Keita, while striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic faces a late fitness test due to a right-ankle injury that forced him to miss the match against Racing.
"His ankle was swollen up, but the doctors reckon it will go down soon," Guardiola said. "We'll see how he gets on and see if we can get him fit for Tuesday."
Bojan Krkic did an admirable job in place of Ibrahimovic on Saturday, while Thierry Henry scored his first league goal since Dec. 2.
After notching 25 goals in 40 games last season, the France striker has only three goals from 18 appearances and was left out of the team for the last three games.
"I hope his goal will give him a lift," Guardiola said. "The team needs much more of him and I expect more from him."
Aleksandr Hleb, the Barcelona midfielder who is now on loan to Stuttgart, was anything but happy to face his former teammates.
"Honestly, it's the only team I didn't want to play against. It's the best team in the world," Hleb said. "I know it, I was there. It may be good for the fans but bad for our goal to advance to the next round."