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Koeman cautious over Fati as Barca face Benfica

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

Barca were beaten 3-0 at home by Bayern Munich in their opening Group E game and drew their next two LaLiga 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.

But Koeman said he needed to tread carefully with the 18-year-old, who has inherited Messi's number 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 on Tuesday.

"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, who have won all seven games in the Portuguese top flight, drew their opening Champions League game at Dynamo Kyiv 0-0.

With Bayern favourites to top the group, Benfica look like being Barca's biggest challengers 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.

Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong returns for Barca after missing the Levante game through suspension. Midfielders Pedri and Sergi Roberto are back from injury but defender Jordi Alba is still unavailable.

(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)

Source: Reuters


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