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Jan 9, 2013

Messi likely to feature against Cordoba

Four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi should feature in Barcelona's Copa del Rey last 16 second-leg tie at home to Cordoba on Thursday, although coach Tito Vilanova will miss the game as he travels to New York for medical tests.

• Blog: Messi golden again

With Barca already 2-0 up from last month's first leg at Cordoba, regulars Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Pedro Rodriguez have not been included in the match-day squad. Messi, though, is in, along with fellow first-teamers Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba and Carles Puyol, while Adriano Correia is available despite missing training on Tuesday with a niggle.

Assistant coach Jordi Roura, who again takes charge in Vilanova's absence, said on Wednesday that Messi may or may not start the game, but this week's Ballon d'Or excitement had not affected either him or his team-mates.

"Everyone knows that Leo wants to play every game, and that is one of his great virtues," Roura said. "We will speak and decide what is best. What he does seems so natural to us that it makes you lose sight of his greatness. It is an honour for the club to have Messi, and Iniesta, Xavi and Pique among best in the world. It is the result of many years of hard work at the academy, by lots of people."

Barca's usual Copa keeper Jose Pinto will play against the La Segunda side, with David Villa, Javier Mascherano, Thiago Alcantara, Martin Montoya and Cristian Tello among those also likely to come in.

Roura said he did not think that Villa, who has been heavily linked with a move away from the Camp Nou due to his lack of recent playing, had anything to prove and that he was still being eased back from the broken leg he suffered in December 2011.

"Villa does not need any vindication," he said. "He is an extraordinary player and very important for us. We will see how things are after training tomorrow and how the team is. He is working very hard. He was out with a very serious injury and every day he is getting better and better. We have no doubt that, bit by bit, he will return to 100 per cent."

According to reports in the Spanish media, Vilanova's trip to New York was to visit Thimoty Chan, doctor at the city's Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital, to monitor his recovery from December's operation to remove a tumour from his parotid gland. Roura did not go into the specific details but said his boss would not attend Thursday's game.

"Tito will not be there tomorrow," he said. "He had to go for medical reasons. So he will not be at the game tomorrow."

The former Barca attacker, whose career was cut short early by injury, said it was important the team matched the intensity he was sure Cordoba's players would bring to the game.

"We are going into the game with the maximum seriousness, the maximum intensity, as we always do with these players," Roura said. "It is important not to break our positive momentum. Cordoba are a very intense team. I am sure they will be very committed playing here. Games like this have become complicated before."

Asked about former Pep Guardiola's plans to return to coaching next season, Roura, who both played and coached alongside the former Barca boss, said it was great news for the game.

"Pep coaching again seems to me like magnificent news for football lovers," he said. "It is a pity for him not to be involved in the game."

Roura also revealed that Isaac Cuenca, who is close to a comeback after missing the first five months of the season with a knee injury, was unlikely to be sent out on loan during the January transfer window and nor were any other Barca squad players.

"In principle, we are not thinking about letting Cuenca, or anyone else, leave on loan," he said.

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