Barcelona's youth to get test against BATE
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -With first place secure, Barcelona will use its final group match against BATE Borisov on Tuesday as a chance to give its latest crop of young talent a taste of the Champions League.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has only called up six first-team players for the match, opting to rest Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, among others, ahead of next weekend's game at Real Madrid in the Spanish league.
"For me, the game against BATE is perfect since I can work with young players, and I love that because they have the desire and the excitement to make it to the top,'' Guardiola said on Monday. "We know that BATE is fighting for a place in the Europa League. It's a good opportunity to test how good these young players are.''
In the other Group H match, Viktoria Plzen needs a draw or better against AC Milan to finish third and earn a spot in the Europa League.
The defending champions will be able to count on defender Gerard Pique and forward Pedro Rodriguez, who has lost his spot in Barcelona's starting lineup this season and should be eager to rediscover his form against the Belarusian champions.
"I am gaining my confidence back,'' Pedro said. "I missed some games due to injury, but now the important thing is to continue working hard with the team to recover my form.''
Midfielder Thiago Alcantara will likely orchestrate Barcelona's passing attack, which could also feature 17-year-old forward Gerard Deulofeu and Isaac Cuenca, who capped his strong performance last weekend with a goal in his team's 5-0 rout of Levante.
The 20-year-old Cuenca spent last season in Spain's third division on loan, but he has fit in seamlessly in limited action with Barcelona's first team this campaign, scoring two goals in league play and providing Guardiola with another weapon on the wing.
"Physically, he may not be a hit with the girls,'' Guardiola joked on Saturday. "But when he plays in the right place, he is awesome. He does his job to perfection.''
Barcelona rolled to a 5-0 win in its first meeting with BATE in Minsk, and the visitors must find a way to hand Barcelona its first loss in 13 straight Champions League home games while hoping that Viktoria Plzen loses to overtake the Czechs and stay alive in European competition.
BATE can take some heart that Milan already has second place in the group locked up, but Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said his team would look to win.
"Every match is equally important, it's just like any other match for us,'' Allegri said. "Plzen's got a very good team. We want to succeed and we'll play at full speed during the match.''
Allegri said striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be a substitute but Brazil forward Alexandre Pato, who is still regaining his form following a leg muscle injury, will play.
"Pato is fine,'' Allegri said. "He needs to play and he'll do so in Prague.''
In defense, Philippe Mexes will likely start at center back, with either Alessandro Nesta or Thiago Silva getting some rest.
Viktoria Plzen is third in the Czech league after a 4-1 win on Friday.
"Anything can happen but I don't think that Borisov can win (at Barcelona),'' Viktoria Plzen coach Pavel Vrba said. "(And) I still think that we can draw with Milan.''
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