Josep Guardiola foresees a "great match" as holders FC Barcelona kick off their title defence at Camp Nou against an AC Milan side shorn of injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimović.
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FC Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola predicts that the reigning champions will open their title defence with a "great match" against Group H rivals and seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan. His Rossoneri counterpart Massimiliano Allegri must decide how to replace the injured Zlatan Ibrahimović and has called on his side to show courage against "probably the best team in the world".
Coach Josep Guardiola
Carles Puyol is fit to play but we will decide tomorrow. We have played two league games and now we start the Champions League. But it's great news that the captain is back. Milan always play 4-4-2, but I don't know if they will field one or two centre-forwards. I imagine they will attack and create problems for us, and come out to play their football so it should be a great match.
It's an honour to defend the title and it's great to be in a position to be able to win it in consecutive seasons. San Sebastian [Saturday's draw with Real Sociedad de Fútbol] is in the past. I reached my conclusions and I'm keeping them to myself because they'll serve me in the future. The players are fully aware that we're facing a great team in Milan: great players, great coach, great club and we're fortunate to be able to face such good clubs.
Andrea Pirlo is an extraordinary player. He was born in Brescia and all players from there are great. He has tremendous quality. Alberto Aquilani I met at Roma together with Daniele De Rossi. Players come and go but clubs carry on being great.
Saturday: Real Sociedad de Fútbol 2-2 Barcelona
(Agirretxe 59, Griezmann 60; Xavi 10, Fàbregas 11)
Valdés; Alves, Busquets, Fontàs (Iniesta 80), Adriano; Thiago Alcántara (Messi 63), Xavi, Keita; Pedro, Alexis Sánchez (Villa 32), Fàbregas
• Víctor Valdés made his 401st appearance for Barcelona to surpass Andoni Zubizarreta's club record.
Carles Puyol, who had knee surgery on 1 June, was an unused substitute on Saturday and could return according to Guardiola. Alexis Sánchez went off with a torn hamstring and will be missing for six to eight weeks. Gerard Piqué has not figured since tearing his left calf in training on 23 August. Ibrahim Afellay is also absent with a thigh injury sustained in late July.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri
Pato and Kevin-Prince Boateng will probably play. I will play with one up front but I don't know who because Ibrahimović's injury was so sudden. I don't think he will be fit for the Napoli match [on 18 September] but I hope he recovers as soon as possible.
They're the champions and it's normal that without Ibrahimović we'll miss some power. But on the pitch we have to concern ourselves with giving a good performance, showing courage and respect for probably the best team in the world.
With the talent we have, I'm sure we will create problems for Barcelona. To play defensively against them could be a problem. We have to play a very serious match. Apart from the tactical and technical side of things, we have to play a courageous match. I am curious about the team we will see on the pitch tomorrow. We are the champions of Italy, with players that are used to these matches, but we shall see what happens.
Friday: Milan 2-2 S.S. Lazio
(Ibrahimović 29, Cassano 33; Klose 12, Cissé 21)
Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Antonini; Gattuso (Van Bommel 20), Ambrosini, Aquilani (Nocerino 68); Boateng (Pato 76); Cassano, Ibrahimović
• Alberto Aquilani and Antonio Nocerino made their debuts for the Rossoneri.
Barcelona old boy Ibrahimović did not travel after injuring his right thigh in training, while Robinho misses out after failing to shrug off a groin problem. Gennaro Gattuso (three games) and Philippe Mexès (back on matchday two) are suspended. Mathieu Flamini sits out the group stage after knee surgery in late August while Taye Taiwo is sidelined by an ankle complaint.
Barcelona are unbeaten in ten UEFA Champions League home games since a 2-1 loss to FC Rubin Kazan in the 2009/10 group stage, although a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid CF in last season's semi-final second leg ended a run of nine straight wins at the Camp Nou.