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Oct 29, 2012

Barca boss taking Alaves seriously

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova says he is taking Tuesday night's Copa del Rey trip to Alaves very seriously, despite resting regulars Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Pedro Rodriguez, Jordi Alba and Victor Valdes for the game.

Alaves, who famously lost 5-4 to Liverpool after extra time in the 2001 UEFA Cup final, now play in Spain's third tier, but the Barca boss says he will not use the match to give playing time to squad players.

"I will put out our most competitive team for the Copa game," Vilanova told reporters on Monday morning. "If I just thought about giving out minutes I would not be giving the game the importance it deserves. We have few players who have played little, because of the way the season has gone. We are leaving five players here as they are the ones who have played most."

Alaves currently sit top of their Segunda B section, after winning 1-0 at UD Logrones last weekend, and the Vitoria-based side are a potential banana-skin for the defending Copa holders, according to Vilanova.

"These opening rounds are difficult because you have little to win and a lot to lose," he said. "This is the best team we could have met in these opening rounds. The pitch is a good pitch and that is in our favour. I know their coach (Natxo Gonzalez) and I know how he works. They have only conceded four goals. We will take the tie was seriously as possible."

First teamers in the squad for the game include Javier Mascherano, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Dani Alves, who has recovered from a thigh strain and was on the bench for Saturday's 5-0 win at Rayo Vallecano.

Reserve 'keeper Jose Pinto is sure to start against the Basque side, while youngsters Marc Bartra, Jonathan Dos Santos and Sergi Roberto will be hoping to impress. Centre-half Gerard Pique misses out again as he continues his slow recovery from an ankle problem picked up over a month ago against Spartak Moscow.

Speaking on the tenth anniversary of Iniesta's first senior game for Barcelona, Vilanova said the midfielder's achievements in the decade since were a credit to the Catalan club's La Masia youth system.

"Iniesta is an example of La Masia," he said. "It takes a lot to develop a player as special as Andres. He came in as a little boy and was made into a global star thanks to the work of this club."

Asked whether Manchester City's decision to hire ex-Barcelona executive Txiki Begiristain as their new sporting director showed that the Premier League champions were intending to implement a 'Barca model' at Eastlands, Vilanova said it could be possible as Begiristain had played a key role in building the all-conquering Barcelona side of recent seasons.

"That will depend on them," he said. "I congratulate Manchester City for signing Txiki. He was a part of all those successes, he signed a lot of our players and he gave an opportunity to Pep Guardiola."

Meanwhile, Alaves manager Naxto Gonzalez believes his side can cause an upset when they face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.

Despite a tenth place La Liga finish and a UEFA Cup final appearance in 2001 - in which they lost 5-4 to Liverpool - Alaves now find themselves in Spain's third tier just 11 years later.

Beating the likes of Inter Milan and Kaiserslautern on route to the final are a distant memory after slipping into financial administration means they now line up against top-flight sides' B teams.

However, while the odds may be stacked against them, Gonzalez feels a victory against one of the world's top teams is possible if his players put the work in.

"Against an opponent like that you cannot enjoy yourself," he said. "If you go out and try to enjoy playing Barca they'll put 10 goals past you.

"We have to go out on the pitch prepared to win. I am convinced we can do it and my mission is to transmit that conviction to the players so they believe it while also knowing that it's going to be very tough."

The last time Alaves faced Barcelona in the Copa del Rey they suffered a 5-2 aggregate defeat in 2007 , with Javier Saviola scoring all five goals for the Catalan club.

They currently sit top of the Spanish Segunda B division with 24 points taken from 10 matches, winning eight games and losing two.

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