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Nov 2, 2012

Messi could face Celta after son's birth

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has said he expects Lionel Messi to be available for the home game against Celta Vigo on Saturday despite the attacker having been absent from training on Friday to attend the birth of his first child.

Vilanova confirmed Messi had missed training as the Catalan papers reported that he had accompanied his partner to the private clinic near the Camp Nou where she was to give birth to their son, who is to be named Thiago.

"Messi did not come to training as he had permission to be absent," Vilanova said. "In principle, he will be available tomorrow.

"It is a personal matter, for his family to talk about. If everything is fine, he will play. It is normal for him not to train on such an important day."

Vilanova played for Celta for three seasons in the early 1990s, scoring one goal in 29 games. He said he had enjoyed his time with the Galicians and was looking forward to Saturday's game against their current side, who play in an attractive style under current coach Paco Herrera.

"I have good memories, as in Vigo they treated me well," he said. "I would have liked to have played more, but I gave everything I could.

"[The current team] try to play good football. We prefer playing against teams who play expansively and attack us. Celta are one of them - better for the spectator."

The coach dismissed recent rumours that Alexis Sanchez or David Villa could leave the club in January, for Tottenham and Juventus respectively, and said he was happy with Sanchez, signed from Udinese for €37 million in 2011, despite his return of only one goal in 12 appearances this season.

"Nobody will leave in January," he said. "We have six attackers who give us different things, and we want to keep them all.

"I am satisfied with Alexis and I do not think he is lacking confidence. If he does not perform as well as he can, that is also my fault. I hope he scores so that people will stop monitoring him so closely."

Barca confirmed that defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol had not yet returned to full training with their team-mates, meaning that one of Sergio Busquets, Alex Song or Marc Barta is likely to accompany Javier Mascherano in central defence on Saturday.

Vilanova said, however, that he expected Pique - who has not played since injuring an ankle against Spartak Moscow on September 19 - to be back sooner rather than later.

"Pique has been training a few days at a higher level," he said. "He is improving each day. It is a question of days before he will be back with us. It is important to have him back. He helps us play the ball out from the back and at set-pieces."

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