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Apr 1, 2013

Vilanova set for return to bench at PSG

Tito Vilanova, Xavi Hernandez, Jordi Alba and Eric Abidal were all on Barcelona's flight to Paris on Monday morning ahead of Tuesday evening's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Paris Saint-Germain.

• Blog: Barca hurt by Celta
• Becks issues rallying call

Vilanova now looks set to return to the blaugrana bench for the first time since January, while Xavi and Alba appear to have recovered from their respective hamstring problems in time to start the game.

Also on the early morning flight was Lionel Messi, who told fans via his Tencent Weibo page on Sunday that he and his team-mates were looking forward to a testing challenge against the Qatari-backed Ligue 1 leaders.

"We are already very focused on the game in Paris," Messi said. "It will be difficult but we are feeling good."

The Argentina international's social media comments echoed the sentiments expressed to reporters after Saturday evening's 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo, where he had scored for a 19th consecutive La Liga game but was left disappointed after the relegation-threatened Galicians secured a point with an 88th-minute equaliser.

"I do not give importance to the record, that is the least of things, what was important was to win the game and we did not manage that," Messi said. "We had the fortune to go ahead in the second half, but it ended up as it ended up. Now we cannot lose our focus. We must take the time to prepare for the game against PSG, which will be a difficult game."

Saturday's clash at Balaidos was also significant for the performance of young attacker Cristian Tello, who scored Barca's first with a clinical right-foot finish, and then laid on Messi's second with a clever pull-back.

The performance was well timed given fellow winger Pedro Rodriguez is suspended for the first leg against PSG, but Tello is not getting carried away.

"I am very pleased that the manager has confidence in me," he said. "I hope to keep improving. It was a difficult match because it was do-or-die for them. The result is not bad although it is a shame they scored so late when we were very close to winning."

While Vilanova continues to ease his way back to full duties after spending two months receiving medical treatment in New York, assistant Jordi Roura is expected to take Monday evening's press conference before training at the Parc des Princes. That session should allow the Barca coaching brains to decide on their starting line-up for Tuesday's game.

Should Xavi return to midfield, then both Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara could be on the bench, alongside Barca B attacker Gerard Deulofeu, who keeps his place in the senior squad. David Villa should start up front alongside Messi and either Tello or Alexis Sanchez, who again disappointed against Celta and was substituted early in the second half.

Around 2,300 blaugrana fans are expected at the Parc des Princes, along with 17 of the Catalan club's 20 directors. Such a large representation shows the close relationship between PSG and Barca, who both have strong commercial links with Qatar.

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