Spanish international defender Gerard Pique made a robust defence of Barcelona’s season and took on skeptics as he spoke confidently about their chances of overturning a 2-0 deficit at home to AC Milan to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Barca have endured a rough ride over the last couple of weeks, losing their last 16 first leg in Milan, and then suffering back-to-back defeats to eternal rivals Real Madrid in the King’s Cup semi-finals and in La Liga.
These lacklustre displays have prompted suggestions that Barca were in some kind of decline, but Pique bit back sharply on Monday.
“We aren’t looking to shut up the critics,” he told a news conference.
“We are the leaders in La Liga, 13 points ahead of second place. Real knocked us out in the Cup, but this can happen as they are a great team.
“The season has been brilliant. Tomorrow we want to win, for ourselves and for the fans. Not for all of you, to silence the critics.”
Pique went on to remind everyone Barca had won three European titles in the last eight years.
“People have short memories,” he said. “We have changed history in recent times, under Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.
“Only 10 or 12 years ago the fans went mad when a last-minute goal from Rivaldo qualified us for the Champions League. People should have confidence in this team. They have earned it.”
He was asked how Barca were going to go about breaking down what was likely to be another well-organized defence, something they have laboured to do in recent games.
“We have five years experience of playing against teams who defend deep, and we know what to do. It is just Milan are specialists and do it very well and make it very tough,” he said.
“We will have to open up the pitch, move the ball quickly, make the most of a good, watered surface. I have confidence in the attacking players. If there is one thing this team does not lack, it is goals.
“We are a team who have always played with our heads. Tomorrow we will do the same. Perhaps in the last few minutes you have to play with the heart. We will go out and attack, but we won’t be going mad.”
Pique also made reference to his former club Manchester United’s famous 2-1 comeback victory against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in 1999, when Alex Ferguson’s side snatched the Champions League title with two injury time goals in the final.
“We have the talent and we are mentally prepared to play a great game,” he said.
“We need to be alert the 94 or 95 minutes the referee allows. Look what happened here in the final a few years ago with United and Bayern when they scored twice in the last minute. Anything can happen.”
Barca assistant coach Jordi Roura gave little away on possible line-ups for the game.
“We have spent days mulling over the starting 11. We will decide tomorrow,” Roura said, adding that playmaker Xavi would probably be available after recovering from a thigh strain.
“All the players have a chance of playing. Xavi trained with us yesterday and will do so again today. We will have to wait until the last moment to see how he is.”
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