Vilanova back on Barca bench after cancer treatment

BARCELONA coach Tito Vilanova, back after undergoing cancer treatment, will return to the bench for the club’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at Paris St Germain tonight.

“He will be in the dugout with us,” Vilanova’s assistant Jordi Roura told a news conference on the eve of the game. “He’s the coach and his comeback is extremely important for us,” added Roura, who has been in charge in his absence. Vilanova flew back to Barcelona last Tuesday following two months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in New York. Striker David Villa echoed Roura’s views by saying: “It’s always easier when the boss is there with us”.

Barcelona will also have playmaker Xavi and defender Jordi Alba back after recovering from hamstring injuries. However, centre back Carles Puyol is out injured and versatile forward Pedro is suspended. “Any absence is a blow in this competition but we’ll do our best for them not to be noticed,” added Villa.

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Roura said Barcelona would rely on their usual passing approach. “We won’t change the way we play even though PSG are good on the counter-attack,” he explained. “We are used to playing against opponents who bank on defence but I don’t think they will just wait in their half – they will try to do more than that.”

Roura said his team would have to be vigilant to cope with former Barca striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is the top scorer in Ligue 1 this season with 25 goals. “He’s a great player and we’ll have to keep an eye on him at all times,” added the assistant coach.

Ibrahimovic is available for PSG after a two-match European ban for his dismissal in the first leg of their last-16 clash with Valencia was halved on appeal.

The Sweden striker said: “I would have been disappointed. It’s a game everyone wants to play in. I thought the red card was a hard judgment from the referee and when I got two games, that was even harder, but afterwards we appealed and (they) took one game away and I became very happy.”

Ibrahimovic admits his side will come up against the best team and, in Lionel Messi, the best player in the world tonight – and possibly, in each case, the greatest ever.

“Today, for sure Leo Messi’s the best player,” he said. “Maybe they should put the name Messi on the Golden Ball, he has a couple of years more to win it. As an active player, it’s difficult to say he’s the best who’s ever played football. Messi has to quit football, then you can decide if he’s the best or not.

“It will be a difficult game, they are probably the best team today and probably the best team ever playing football on this planet. It will be very exciting to try to find how to play, how to disturb them.”

Ibrahimovic’s availability leaves Thiago Motta as PSG’s only absentee. Former England captain David Beckham will be available and Ibrahimovic feels he has a major part to play.

“He has big quality and he’s a fighter, he has a big heart,” said the Swede. “We are still playing for so many competitions and that’s where he becomes so important – not all our players have this experience of winning trophies.”