With Europe’s top competition set to get back under way on Tuesday, many teams elected to give their top players a break during the weekend’s domestic action
By Enis Koylu
The resumption of Champions League football brings with it a shift in focus for clubs; having been concentrating solely on domestic matters, they have an extra flow of games to deal with, and must plan accordingly.
While league programmes do not relent, Europe’s big guns can afford to take some risks and leave out their best players to keep them fresh for the challenges, and that was exactly what happened across the continent over the weekend.
While Valencia named a mostly full-strength line-up, leaving only Joao Pereira on the bench, Paris Saint-Germain played their Ligue 1 game against Bastia on Friday, just 48 hours after last week’s internationals, and left three key players out of their first XI.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Blaise Matuidi all missed out and it showed. The capital club struggled during the first half, but when the trio were introduced, they turned the tide of the match, with both forwards finding the target.
Tuesday’s other fixture sees Celtic face off with Juventus in Glasgow, and Neil Lennon took the opportunity to rest a host of players. Indeed, only goalkeeper Fraser Forster and Kris Commons played against Inverness Caledonian Thistle (the latter being substituted at half-time), with the likes of Joe Ledley, Victor Wanyama, Scott Brown, and Gary Hooper all sitting out the fixture. Little did it matter, though, as the Hoops ran out 3-1 winners in the Scottish highlands.
The Bianconeri, however, fielded a more recognisable line-up for their Serie A win over Fiorentina on Saturday. Martin Caceres and Sebastian Giovinco sat out the clash with the Florentines, and may well start at Parkhead, while Mirko Vucinic was withdrawn after just 62 minutes as a precaution with three points all but secured.
The tie of the round sees Manchester United and Real Madrid meet, with the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, and Jose Mourinho left Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Angel Di Maria out of his starting line-up against Sevilla, and withdrew Cristiano Ronaldo on the hour-mark after his match-winning hat-trick.
Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson elected to give two of his first-team players a rest. Michael Carrick was named on the bench, perhaps as a precaution after a minor knock ruled him out of England duty, while Rio Ferdinand did not feature at all.
The Ukrainian season has not restarted after the winter break, so Shakhtar Donetsk’s players will all be fresh – if not necessarily match fit – when they entertain Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, but the German champions were in action against Hamburg.
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Marcel Schmelzer missed Germany’s friendly with France last week and was not risked when HSV travelled to Signal Iduna Park, while Neven Subotic was left on the bench despite recovering from a hamstring injury. Finally, Ilkay Gundogan came on with half an hour remaining.
With four fixtures to come the following midweek, some other Champions League teams took the chance to leave players out for their league games.
Of the eight teams involved, the rotation policies of Barcelona and Bayern Munich were most obvious. The Catalans left out Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Pedro, but beat Getafe 6-1 anyway, while the Bavarians were not troubled by the absence of Thomas Muller, Daniel Van Buyten and Mario Mandzukic, thrashing a Schalke missing both Jefferson Farfan and Julian Draxer 4-0.
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