Daniel Alves has warned his FC Barcelona colleagues that they must "play to our tempo" if they hope to oust AC Milan, insisting that "great challenges are there for great teams".
Daniel Alves insists that FC Barcelona remain capable of anything as long as they "play to our tempo", with the Catalan giants needing to settle into an impressive stride if they are to parade past round of 16 rivals AC Milan on Tuesday.
The alternative scenario for Alves and Co is that they exit the competition in March, Milan's 2-0 first-leg success having raised the prospect of Barcelona missing out on the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2006/07. No team has ever overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this level without scoring an away goal, but Alves knows that the Blaugrana could not have lifted the trophy twice in the last four years without setting a few precedents.
"If we play at our level, we will have a lot of chances," said the right-back. "We have spectacular players, so I don't think this tie will be decided until the referee blows the final whistle. The desire to enjoy this is very great, and great challenges are there for great teams. Let's see where we stand at the end – if we really are the team that's respected all over the world, or if we cannot reach that level. We're very confident in our team and the players we have."
Confidence has nonetheless been tested by recent results, with the pain of losing in Milan followed shortly afterwards by a pair of morale-sapping defeats at the hands of eternal rivals Real Madrid CF. For Alves, the four-time European champions have lacked "rhythm" of late, and they need to rediscover the cohesion and tempo that helped them oust the Rossoneri in the quarter-finals last term.
"We play to a different tempo to everyone else," he explained. "
When we hit it we're really great, but when we don't we're a normal team. It depends on us. "We have spectacular players and the Camp Nou could be a long night for Milan. If we hit our tempo in the match we've a great chance of going through but if we play at half-pace, then we're out."
The 29-year-old also admitted that the Camp Nou outfit have found life difficult since coach Tito Vilanova was forced to step aside temporarily due to health reasons in December. Assistant coach Jordi Roura will again lead from the dugout on Tuesday.
"When you have a role model and someone you trust, where you can close your eyes and just listen to his ideas, and he knows he can manage things, then of course you miss him," said Alves. "We need our coach, we need his ideas and we need him for help when things are difficult. It's the same as taking [Lionel] Messi out of your team: when you take the role model out of your team, things go less well. You do the best you can, but in the end you notice it."
Despite Vilanova's absence, the former Sevilla FC defender feels it is up to the players to turn their fortunes around. "That's not an excuse for the situation we're in and the games we've lost, because we've also won games while he's not been here," said Alves. "But when you lose, that creates scope for people to sell newspapers. Saying 'Barça are doing well' isn't news. It's news when Barça lose, or when we lose two games in a row. That's news, that's what sells and that's what people want to buy.
"It's strange because when we won a lot of games and there was a big points difference between ourselves and Madrid, people were almost celebrating. I thought that was odd because we hadn't had any difficult moments yet and they were bound to happen at some point. I wanted my team to respond well [when they did], and that difficult moment has now arrived.
I'd like to see how our team responds and whether we're really prepared to face these difficult times or not."
With Barcelona's UEFA Champions League hopes hanging in the balance, he will not have to wait long to find out.