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Tito Vilanova: Barca not the favorite

If he was tempted to dismiss Spartak Moscow as an easy Champions League rival ahead of Wednesday's clash at Camp Nou, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova did not take the bait.

"To say that we are favorites is not real," Vilanova told Efe News Agency Tuesday. "We will see that this is not easy. United and City both were eliminated in the first round last year. If we make it to semifinals, we can talk about whatever we want. But not now."

Vilanova, who is making his Champions League debut as head coach for the four-time European champions, said he puts the pressure on himself.

"In soccer you can't always win and it is very difficult to have a winning cycle," he said. "Champions is possibly the most important competition...along with La Liga. Six matches in the group phase, but, on the other hand, we know that the first match at home is important."

Barca will play without Chilean Alexis Sanchez, who has muscle soreness and Jordi Alba, who is still recovering from the flu.

Vilanova said Spartak Moscow coach Unai Emery has had plenty of opportunity to scout Barcelona.

The Spaniard, who made the switch to Spartak in May, knows what to expect from the star-studded Barcelona side, who are unbeaten in 16 European home outings dating back to October 2009.

"We all know each other, Unai has made things very complicated, he has been brave and we have had to tighten up top," said Vilanova. "I have a feeling he will be brave tomorrow, although the element of surprise is gone."

If Emery can lead his side to victory over Barcelona it will be the first time he has engineered a win over the Spanish giants in his career, following several attempts with Primera Division side Valencia, who he coached between 2008 and earlier this year.

"I am overjoyed to play Barcelona because they are one of the best three teams in the world, if not the best," Emery told Marca.

"There is the added difficulty of dealing with them but there are more positive than negative things about facing Barcelona. We have to enjoy it."

Lionel Messi started from the bench in Barcelona's comfortable 4-1 win over Getafe last weekend and is expected to come back into the starting side, with striker David Villa also in contention after he scored in that game as a substitute.

Messi refuses to take anything for granted but is still setting his sights on making the final at Wembley next May.

He told the club's official website: "I don't think there are easy groups in the Champions League, I think all the opponents are complicated.

"It seems like some groups are more complicated than others but it's all decided on the pitch.

"You have to play the matches first, we know from experience that every team can make it complicated for you, they are difficult games."

Andres Iniesta, winner of UEFA's Best Player in Europe Award, added: "Wembley is important to Barcelona because we won two Champions League trophies there.

"There's still a very long road ahead of us. Football today is so balanced out that's it pretty difficult to make it into the final and win it, but we take it with anticipation."

Barcelona's lineup for Wednesday includes Valdés, Pinto, Dani Alves, Piqué, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Villa, Messi, Thiago Silva, Mascherano, Busquets, Pedro, Montoya, Adriano, Alex Song, Bartra, Alexis, Tello and Deulofeu.

Information from Press Association was used in this report.


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