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Luis Suarez is tantalizingly close to eclipsing two of the game’s greats and move ahead of Maradona and Romario in Barcelona’s list of all-time goal scorers.
Bate Borisov could be the latest victims of the Uruguayan’s mesmeric skills that has taken him to within two goals of Maradona’s record for Barca and three of Romario’s.
The scene is set for 28-year-old Suarez to add to the 36 goals already scored for the Catalans in 58 games since joining from Liverpool, with Barca boss Luis Enrique determined to play a strong side against the champions of Belarussia, even with an El Clasico looming.
‘We must send a message’
“As defending champions we must send a message we are ready,” said Enrique, and victory will leave his side on the verge of qualifying for the knockout stages. “The objective is to beat Bate Borisov and to win the group. Obviously the importance of finishing first depends on who is second in the other groups but we want to give the message that we are ready and prepared.”
Suarez and Neymar have formed a scintillating partnership during Lionel Messi’s absence through injury, sharing a ten goal haul between them from four games.
They have been instrumental in keeping Barca’s title defence on track and the Catalans are currently level on points with bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.
Barca have scored 14 in La Liga since talisman Messi was injured, and all 14 have been scored by either Suarez or Neymar – seven each, making them the league’s top scorers.
Injuries to key players combined with the UEFA transfer ban, which runs until January, has restricted Enrique’s options.
“Last year I was able to do what I wanted with the amount of minutes that players had, even though I was criticised at the time,” said Enrique. “Now I am restricted by the number of players available.
“We will have players back soon, along with other players available in January, and we will see if then we can arrange the minutes played because I am very aware that the trophies are disputed in the final months and that is key.”
And that is worrying news for Real and the rest of Europe’s elite clubs given Ardan Turan and Alex Vidal are waiting in the wings to make their debuts for Barca when the transfer ban is lifted in January.
More immediately is the form of Suarez and Neymar and the worry they will give Bate at the Nou Camp. The visitors can still reach the knockout phase even if five-time winners Barca beat them, which is fortunate given it is three years since they last managed an away win in the Champions League. Just 12 months earlier in 2011 they were on the wrong end of a 4-0 score line against Barcelona.
Bate currently sit third in the group one point behind Bayern Leverkeusen and one point ahead of Roma.
Former Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen is in line to make his Barca Champions League debut having recovered from injury.
By: Joe Cahal