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September 29, 2021

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Koeman wary over Fati ahead of Benfica clash

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said he is cautious about starting teenage forward Ansu Fati away to Benfica today so soon after returning from injury as the Catalans look to kickstart their UEFA Champions League campaign.

Barcelona was beaten 0-3 at home by Bayern Munich in its opening Group E game and drew its next two La Liga matches with Granada and Cadiz before returning to form with a 3-0 home win over Levante on Sunday.

Fati came off the bench to score the last goal against Levante after over 10 months sidelined with a knee injury during which he underwent four operations.

His return has unleashed a wave of hope at the club after a despondent start to the season following Lionel Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain.

But Koeman said he needed to tread carefully with the 18-year-old, who has inherited Messi’s No. 10 shirt and is Barca’s youngest goalscorer in the league.

“He was very tired yesterday, being away for so long and then to score with his family in the stadium had a huge impact on him emotionally,” Koeman told a news conference.

“Today he has trained well and we’ll try to give him a bit more game time but I can’t say how many minutes we’ll give him, it depends on what state he is in.”

Fati could be called into the Spain squad for October’s UEFA Nations League final tournament.

“All I can say is he’s been away from the pitch for 10 months, he’s trained for two weeks with the team and played 15 minutes,” Koeman said. “He’s still got a long way to go although Sunday was a great day for him, he played 15 minutes and scored our third goal, it was perfect.”

Benfica, which has won all seven games in the Portuguese top flight, drew its opening UCL game at Dynamo Kyiv 0-0.

With Bayern the favorite to top the group, Benfica looks like being Barca’s biggest challenger for second spot and Koeman said it was crucial to get a positive result against the Portuguese side, where he spent one season as coach.

“Benfica are a huge club, I know from experience how big they are. It’s an exciting game and we need a good result,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann has rejected any talk of his team being the favorite for the UCL title as too early, ahead of today’s second Group E match against Dynamo Kyiv.

France’s former world and European champion Robert Pires had praised Bayern as the best team in Europe and “a top favorite” for the UCL title in an interview with Germany’s Kicker magazine.

“First of all he was a great player and when a great player has an opinion then I listen to it,” Nagelsmann told an online news conference yesterday ahead of the home game against the Ukrainian side.

“But what is always important is you have to go out and confirm what others say about you. There has only been the first matchday and today starts the second matchday.”

The Bavarians, who last won the UCL in 2020, are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions while also leading the Bundesliga race.

“Whoever wants to win it (UCL) must win the highest number of matches and we will try to do that,” said Nagelsmann, in his first season in charge at Bayern.

He will have an almost complete squad to chose from, except for injured Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman, recovering from minor heart surgery.

“There are three points available tomorrow and we want to have six after the first two matches and remain group leaders,” Nagelsmann said.


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