Iniesta, Wilshere & Drogba – the stars rested ahead of Champions League resumption

Despite Europe’s top competition being set for another round of fixtures this week, several teams had the luxury of not having to rest their top players over the weekend

By Sam Lee

With a number of European Football Associations giving their sides permission to play on Friday night, many clubs were able to field full-strength line-ups in domestic action ahead of their Champions League first-leg matches.

Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Galatasaray and Porto all played on Friday night, allowing their coaches to pick their strongest XIs.

However, Barcelona did take the opportunity to give some of their key players the night off in their 2-1 win over Granada on Saturday. Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Carles Puyol all started on the bench, although Jordi Alba had to replace the injured Adriano in the first half, while Iniesta came on for the last 20 minutes.

Lionel Messi, of course, played the full 90 minutes despite the upcoming game against Milan.

The Rossoneri themselves eked out victory against Parma thanks once again to the efforts of Mario Balotelli. The former Manchester City striker, however, is cup-tied and will not be able to play against Barca. Stephan El Shaarawy, meanwhile, missed Friday’s game through injury and may not be ready for Wednesday night either. One player who will be available is centre-back Philippe Mexes, who missed out against the Gialloblu in order to be ready for the visit of Jordi Roura’s men.

Alongside Barca, Arsenal were one of the few sides to make several changes to their line-up.

Arsene Wenger made seven alterations to his team for the FA Cup defeat at home to Blackburn, and benched the important trio of Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere.

All three men came off the bench with the scores at 0-0, only for the Gunners to concede the decisive goal a minute later.

Wenger’s approach was in stark contrast to that of Roten boss Jupp Heynckes, who decided to pick his best available line-up due to having an extra day’s rest ahead of the game at the Emirates. Javi Martinez missed out with a toe injury, however.

Heynckes may even have given himself a selection headache after Arjen Robben, who has been restricted to substitute appearances recently, came off the bench once again and wrapped up a 2-0 victory over Wolfsburg with a goal in the final minute.

Time off | Puyol rested his ageing legs ahead of the game against AC Milan

Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini did take the opportunity to make some changes, with centre-back Martin Demichelis having the night off.

Winger Joaquin also started the game on the bench, but did come on for the last nine minutes of the 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao. Jeremy Toulalan came on with just over half an hour to go, while midfield partner Manuel Iturra saw no playing time.

Tuesday’s opponents Porto also took full advantage of playing on Friday by putting out a full-strength side against Beira-Mar. Sought-after striker Jackson Martinez once again got himself on the score-sheet for the Portuguese side in a 2-0 victory, and will be gunning for the Andalusians at the Dragao.

Galatasaray, another team who played on Friday, kept Didier Drogba in reserve for their 2-1 win against Akhisar Belediye. The Ivorian had been at the Africa Cup of Nations and was not chosen to make his first full start for the club, with Fatih Terim fielding his strongest – and fittest –  available line-up. Drogba was ready to play some part, however, and he duly came off the bench in the second half and scored the opening goal five minutes later. Not a bad way to warm-up for his Champions League return.

And Schalke, who played out a 2-2 draw with Mainz on Saturday, did not rest any players despite playing a day later than the Istanbul side. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was once again out of the Konigsblauen line-up as he continues his recovery from an eye injury, but star men Julian Draxler and Jefferson Farfan played the majority of the match.

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