x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Troubled Barcelona still favourites against BATE Borisov

Issues off the field may have taken some focus away from today's match against BATE.

Sandro Rosell, left, has invited Joan Laporta, right, to attend games but all is not well.
Sandro Rosell, left, has invited Joan Laporta, right, to attend games but all is not well.

Barcelona flew into Minsk yesterday ahead of tonight's Champions League game against the Belarus champions BATE Borisov under a cloud.

It was not the players complaining that their new shirts soak up sweat and increase in weight during games, nor the final puffs of tobacco over Camp Nou before smoking is abolished in all areas of the stadium, but a cold war-style hostility between the president Sandro Rosell and his predecessor Joan Laporta.

The pair, who were once partners at the head of the club, fell out spectacularly in 2005 and the enmity has existed ever since.

Laporta was replaced by Rosell in 2010, but Barca are taking legal action against Laporta for alleged misappropriation of club funds during his two-term tenure.

Laporta is still close with Pep Guardiola, the coach, and Johan Cruyff - a man who enjoys significant power without a position in Catalonia - and that irks Rosell, especially when they meet socially, as they did last week.

Guardiola spoke about his "sadness" regarding the situation and spoke well of Laporta, the man who appointed him in 2008 when so many were doubtful about a coach with just one season of experience.

Rosell had tried to paper over the very public cracks by inviting Laporta to games, but he also heads a club taking action against the former president.

Along with the arguments, the Barca party arrived in Minsk, the capital where BATE have switched their European games from their own 5,400 capacity stadium in their home city of Borisov, to more bad news - that 1960s playmaker "Chus" Pereda died yesterday, aged 73.

Opponents BATE hope it will be third time lucky against Spanish opponents in the Champions League after losing their previous matches against Real Madrid and Villarreal.

BATE also boast a nine-game unbeaten run in Uefa competitions, but they have drawn at minnows Linfield, Ekranas and at home to Sturm Graz on the way to reaching the group stages.

Even with home advantage and Barca's current adversity, they will be overwhelming underdogs against the champions, who are chasing their first win in this season's competition after drawing against AC Milan at home two weeks ago.

Andres Iniesta has not featured since that Milan game which saw Barca's makeshift defence look shaky, but Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, the central defenders, are both back from injuries.

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