Roura backs Messi to bounce back
Barcelona stand-in coach Jordi Roura admits Lionel Messi has been affected by his recent poor performances, but backed him to bounce back in Saturday's La Liga meeting with Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Two crushing defeats in a week - at AC Milan in the Champions League and then Madrid at home in the Copa del Rey - seem to have derailed Barca's season, while the absence of head coach Tito Vilanova, recovering from cancer treatment, is now being felt more than ever.
Messi, who did not have a shot on target during either of the side's two recent reverses, has been among those to have suffered most during their recent dip. He missed training the morning after Tuesday's 3-1 Copa exit to Madrid after complaining of feeling unwell, but Roura told reporters on Friday that he would be fine to play at the Bernabeu.
"Leo has progressed well, he has recovered perfectly," Roura said. "These could be the games you want to score in. We are with him. When you have the best player in the world, if he does not score, it is normal that it gets noticed. All the players were affected by Tuesday's result on the following day, but they are used to these type of situations."
Neither the upcoming second leg against Milan, nor Barca's 16-point lead over Madrid in La Liga, should divert focus from what is a vital game which could set the Catalan club further along the way to claiming the season's most important trophy, Roura said.
"Our principle objective is to win the three points," he said. "We are talking about La Liga, the objective 'par excellence'. Tomorrow's game is very important, if we win we would leave Madrid much further behind. It seems with the advantage we have in the table that winning is not an important step, but it is. It would also help our morale and self-confidence."
While Messi looks sure to start, the Barca XI may see a number of changes from Tuesday, Xavi Hernandez is set to miss 10-15 days with a hamstring tear, while Cesc Fabregas is also reportedly struggling with a hamstring problem leaving the likes of David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Thiago Alcantara, Cristian Tello and Javier Mascherano on stand-by to freshen things up.
Roura claimed to be unconcerned about whether Madrid coach Jose Mourinho decides to rest key players such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Xabi Alonso ahead of Los Blancos' Champions League last 16 return leg at Manchester United on Tuesday.
"I do not know what Madrid we will find," he said. "They will be very competitive no matter who plays. They have a very deep squad. We will go here to win, as we always do. Then we will see what happens."
Barca president Sandro Rosell and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta flew to New York this week to meet with Vilanova, a trip scheduled to discuss medium-term affairs but at which the team's current poor form was surely discussed. Roura said he spoke daily with his friend, who was doing well.
"Tito is, thankfully, very well, very cheerful," he said, emotionally. "He is continuing his treatment, that gives us confidence and joy. I speak with him every day."
And Roura believes it would be unfair to criticise Barca's players for losing focus in their head coach's absence.
"We have had a dip, but the team will come out of it and compete for everything," he said. "The attitude of the players cannot be questioned, whether things go well or badly for us. We can be good or bad, but it is never from relaxing or being conservative. These players never do that."