Daniel Alves says AC Milan are "practically family" for FC Barcelona after so many recent meetings – but warns that while the Blaugrana are evolving under Gerardo Martino, their will to win is unchanged.
"Every year we face each other at some stage," the full-back said. "Historically, Milan are a very big team and when a team has the history that they do, you have to respect them regardless of them not having the best time of it right now. They never seem to be having a great time of it when we meet, but they have always presented us with extremely tough challenges."
Barcelona have had the better of the sides' seven encounters over the past three seasons, recording three wins to the Rossoneri's one. Yet as the 1-1 draw in Milan a fortnight ago demonstrated, there is seldom much between them. "I don't expect things to be any different on Wednesday," added the Brazil defender. "I hope we are a bit more clinical in front of goal compared with matchday three, because I don't expect Milan to play any differently."
There are signs of evolution in the Barcelona ranks, though. Coach Martino arrived in the summer and a haul of ten clean sheets in 17 games in all competitions this term hints of growing defensive strength. It is, says Alves, a simple equation: "We know that when we don't concede there is a good probability we will win because of the quality we have up front. We are on the right path."
Such are the high standards Barça have set in recent campaigns, the fact they remain unbeaten this season has not warded off negativity from some commentators. The sanguine Alves dismisses the criticism as "part of the show". The 30-year-old added: "Perhaps we're not playing as well as in previous years but we have to focus on the present. We have an alternative style of play. Before we were more monotonous and it helped opponents; now we have variation and it is working well.
"The goal is to get better each game. I think the team are ready for everything. If in May we get to play finals, the team will be ready. The greatest thing about this side is that when they need to, they respond. The years go by but things have not changed – we still want to win and that philosophy will continue."