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Despite injuries Barcelona still the favourite: Xavi

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PEP TALK:Bayern Munich's Claudio Pizzaro and Franck Ribery at a training session in Munich on Tuesday.— PHOTO: AP
PEP TALK:Bayern Munich's Claudio Pizzaro and Franck Ribery at a training session in Munich on Tuesday.— PHOTO: AP

Xavi Hernandez believes that Barcelona is still the favourite in its Champions League quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain despite a number of key injuries in defence and the possibility that Lionel Messi could also miss the second leg.

The first leg ended 2-2 in Paris last Tuesday thanks to Blaise Matuidi’s last minute strike for the hosts but the biggest blow for Barca was the injuries suffered by Messi and Javier Mascherano.

Four-time world player of the year Messi still has a chance of returning for Wednesday’s clash at the Camp Nou but Mascherano’s knee injury will see him miss the majority of what remains of the season.

But Xavi said that two away goals and home advantage should still be enough to see Barca into its sixth consecutive Champions League semifinal.

“We have 90 minutes left at home and we will play in front of our fans, who showed the top level of devotion in the game against Milan,” he was quoted as saying in an interview on uefa.com published on Monday.

“The shame has been the injuries, Mascherano’s just as much as Leo’s. We are going to see how Leo is, Mascherano it seems will miss four to six weeks and they are important absences. But we have a good result, we are favourites, playing at home and there are 90 minutes to play.”

The tie promises to be another special night at the Camp Nou after Barca produced a stunning comeback to reverse a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat AC Milan 4-2 on aggregate in the last round.

Xavi pinpointed that match as a key moment in the Catalans’ season as they target a third Champions League triumph in five years.

“I think that was a turning point because we had just lost in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid which was a real blow for us.

“But the team recovered well, returned to being intense and we returned to seeing perhaps the best version of Barca in attack.

“The high pressing that we had lacked in the previous games also returned. We pulled our socks up and managed to come back against a great team like Milan.”

The loss of Mascherano only compounded an already tricky situation for Barca at the back with captain Carles Puyol and Adriano also injured, whilst Eric Abidal has just returned from 14 months out of action after undergoing a liver transplant.

Marc Bartra started Saturday’s 5-0 win over Mallorca alongside Gerard Pique and is expected to keep his place against the French league leader, although moving Alex Song back into central defence remains an option for manager Tito Vilanova.

Cesc Fabregas is also likely to start should Messi not be fit after scoring the first hat-trick of his career at the weekend, whilst Pedro will return after missing the last three games through injury.

PSG meanwhile has defensive concerns as it looks to match its best ever run in Europe's premier club competition, when it beat Barca to reach the semifinals in 1995.

Captain Thiago Silva missed Saturday's 2-0 win over Rennes due to a knee injury but will travel with the squad along with Thiago Motta who hasn't played since the second-leg of the last-16 tie against Valencia due to an abductor problem.

Matuidi is suspended so Marco Veratti, who was surprisingly dropped in favour of David Beckham for the first-leg, seems set to regain his place in midfield.

Bidding for a treble

With the Bundesliga won, Bayern Munich is out to see off Juventus in the other quarterfinal (second leg) as the Bavarian giant bids to become the first German team to win the treble.

Germany star Bastian Schweinsteiger’s second-half goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt meant Bayern became German champion for the 23rd time as it won the Bundesliga title, holding a 20-point lead, with six matches left.

Bayern now wants to be the first German team to win the treble of league, cup and Champions League titles and it faces Juventus in Turin with a 2-0 lead from last Tuesday’s first leg in Munich having lost last year’s final to Chelsea.

“We have just successfully completed the first stage, now we want to finish off the job,” said coach Jupp Heynckes who gave his team Monday off before it flies to Turin.

“I put my complete trust in this team.”

After Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal, Bayern hosts Wolfsburg in the last four of the German Cup on April 16 with a place in the Berlin final on June 1 up for grabs.

“It would be disastrous if we don’t now use this chance of both reaching the Champions League semifinals and getting into the cup final,” said Bayern president Uli Hoeness.

French star Franck Ribery, who turned 30 on Sunday, and Holland’s Arjen Robben both opted to take part in sprint training on Monday, while striker Mario Mandzukic is available again for selection after a heavy cold at the weekend.

Wednesday’s matches: Second-leg quarterfinals: Barcelona v PSG (2-2); Juventus v Bayern Munich (0-2). — AFP

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