Home comfort for Barca defender
An uncharacteristically poor Barca display at the San Siro three weeks ago has left their European hopes dangling by a thread, but Pique insisted his confidence was high ahead of tonight’s second leg at the Nou Camp.
"I have a feeling that we can do it," the defender said. "I honestly believe that we have the team, the talent and the players to make it to the next round. We’re going up against one of the big teams in Europe, AC Milan, who have a long history of winning the Champions League and the Italian league.
"They are a very complicated rival, but we have the Camp Nou on our side and one of the best FC Barcelona teams in club history…
"This team can do this and much more."
Pique has no worries that Barca can get the goals they need, pointing to their outstanding scoring record in the Primera Division, but admits the job he and his fellow defenders face is much more difficult.
"A Milan goal would complicate things tremendously," he said. "Small details
will end up deciding the match."
Assistant coach Jordi Roura promised to take the match to Milan but told his players there was no need to panic.
"We have to have cool heads and not lose our focus at any point in the game," said Roura, overseeing first-team affairs with head coach Tito Vilanova undergoing cancer treatment. "Two goals can be scored in a few minutes or over 90…
"Milan will try to preserve their lead, but our obligation is to attack."
Roura has a full complement of players to pick from with the possible exception of Xavi, who is still working his way back from a hamstring injury.
The Spain midfielder has been training since Friday, but Roura is making no promises regarding his availability.
"His recovery is positive but we’ll wait until tomorrow’s training session to make a decision," he said.
Xavi himself is certainly optimistic of playing, and told Barca’s official website he was eager to set the record straight after the first-leg defeat.
"Well, it’s the Champions League," he said. "Our pride is a bit hurt from the unjust and excessive result from the away leg and we want to recover that sense of winning, of competing, of being a big team.
"There’s no better match for that than the one against AC Milan. But we have to attack and score early."
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri may have the advantage of a 2-0 lead, but is taking nothing for granted against a team unbeaten in 19 home Champions League matches.
"When the referee blows the whistle to start the match we are starting at 0-0 so if the players do well as I believe they will then we can have a great evening,” he said.
"Then we will need a bit of luck and if we get that we can go through to the next round."
Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani reckons the key to the game will be keeping Barca’s "monster" – aka Lionel Messi – quiet.
Although the four-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored 40 goals in La Liga this season, the Argentina forward has been a little more subdued in Europe, registering only five times.
But Galliani knows Messi will be the spearhead of any Barca comeback in the last-16 second-leg clash.
He told acmilan.com: "We can’t go into the game thinking we’ll be fine just because we’ve got a two-goal advantage.
"We are going up against the strongest team in the world who have a monster like Leo Messi who scores all the time. Let’s hope he takes it easy on Tuesday night.
"One thing is certain – it will be another great challenge, an infinitely difficult challenge. It’s always nice to play Barcelona but we will be going into an incredibly heated atmosphere."
Milan’s preparations have been hurt by news that striker Giampaolo Pazzini – who has 13 Serie A goals to his name this term – suffered a hairline fracture to his fibula during Friday’s league win at Genoa.
Club captain Massimo Ambrosini said the players would try to win it for their injured team-mate.
"Pazzini reacted like a great player when (Mario) Balotelli arrived," he said. "He has shown what he can do and he did everything he could to be here and play but it is an extra motivation for us to go through and he will be available for the quarter-finals."
The Rossoneri also have concerns over the fitness of French defender Philippe Mexes, who could be replaced by Mattia De Sciglio, but first-leg goalscorers Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari are cleared to start in midfield.