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Feb, 19, 2013

Roura: Barca not favourites

Barcelona stand-in coach Jordi Roura has rejected the idea that his side are firm favourites, on both form and history, to win their Champions League last-16 first leg against AC Milan at the San Siro on Wednesday.

• Blog: Wembley dreams start

The two clubs played four times last season, twice in the group stages and then in the quarter-finals, where Barca drew 0-0 in the first leg at San Siro and progressed after two Lionel Messi penalties helped them win 3-1 in the return at the Camp Nou.

Milan have to go back eight games for their last win over the Catalans, when Andriy Shevchenko got the only goal in a group game at San Siro in October 2004, while the current side qualified from this season's group stages with the lowest points tally [eight] of any of the last 16.

However the Rossoneri, seven-time competition winners who are unbeaten in Serie A in 2013, must be taken seriously, Roura told reporters in Milan.

"I am not in agreement, not at all, with the idea that Barca are favourites for this tie," he said.

"Milan are one of the most decorated clubs in Europe, they are playing in their own stadium, and you always fear them.

"We have always had problems here, so it makes no sense to say [we are favourites]. Unless something strange happens, everything will be decided in the second leg.

"It will be very difficult. Whether or not we go through, it will not be for underestimating Milan."

The arrival of the knockout rounds and a game against a big side like Milan would ensure Barca's players were fully motivated, Roura said.

"It is very attractive to play in this competition," he added. "There are great teams in it, and it is a challenge for us to do well. Everyone is very excited and very motivated. Milan are one of the greats. They have a superb squad."

Roura said the blaugrana staff and players were aware that they needed to improve on the recent defensive performances that have seen the team go nine games without a clean sheet and often require brilliance from Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta to compensate.

"It is true that we have gone a number of games conceding at least one goal, but we have also been scoring plenty," he said.

"That is good, although we must improve. Our obligation is to improve on the things we are not doing well. It could be that, some day, we do not have time to make the kind of comeback we have been doing recently."

With David Villa remaining in Barcelona to recover from last week's stomach problems, Alexis Sanchez looks likely to feature at some point.

Roura, who told reporters he would speak to absent boss Tito Vilanova before naming his XI for the game, said the Chilean winger needed support, not criticism.

"The line-up is not yet decided, I still have to decide it with Tito," he said. "It is true that [Alexis] has missed some chances, but our obligation is to help him as much as possible.

"His attitude is commendable. When he scores a few goals in a row, all this will pass."

Roura was also asked about his own personal memories of San Siro, where he suffered a serious knee injury in a challenge with Milan's Marco van Basten during the 1989 European Super Cup, which ultimately led to him retiring as a player three years later.

"That was difficult," he said. "I could not play much more. In that era, Milan had one of the best teams in football history, but my memory [of the game] is not too nice.

"It is inevitable that you remember the injury. I was only 22. But life has given me another opportunity to return here. It is always a pleasure."

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