Messi eyes another sterling show as Barca hope to avoid laps
Minsk, Belorussia: With two hat-tricks in his last three games, Lionel Messi looks primed to lead defending champions Barcelona to their first win of this Champions League campaign at BATE Borisov in Group H today, while injury-plagued AC Milan host Viktoria Plzen.
Messi has scored a Spanish league best eight goals this season, but his team will need to avoid repeating the defensive mistakes that led to a 2-2 draw against Milan in their Eur-opean opener.
With Brazil forwards Alexandre Pato and Robinho unavailable, Milan are hoping that Zlatan Ibrahimovic can return from a leg injury against competition newcomer Viktoria, who drew 1-1 with BATE two weeks ago to put all teams in the group level at one point each.
The 24-year-old Messi can climb to second place on the club's all-time scoring list with another hat-trick, as he is just two goals away from matching Ladislau Kubala's total of 194. Barcelona's top scorer is Cesar Rodriguez, who scored 235 goals from 1942 to 1955. If Messi keeps scoring at the same rate he did last season, he could pass that mark before this campaign is over.
"He is doing incredible things. Each day he surprises everyone with a new record, he continually outdoes himself," Barcelona's David Villa said. "Nobody can compare with him, and we are very happy to have him wearing our colours."
Villa said that even after winning two European titles in three years his team are still hungry to repeat.
"This team knows its potential and that we can reach our goals, but we are also aware that this has just begun," Villa said.
Messi will likely try to continue his productive partnership with former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who had scored in four straight games until the crossbar denied him during Barcelona's 5-0 rout of Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
BATE coach Viktor Goncharenko says that even without the injured Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez and Ebrahim Afellay, Barcelona has more than enough talent to make up for their absence.
"Iniesta is a top-notch player, but his position can be occupied by a great number of players, for example, Thiago [Alcantara] and Cesc Fabregas," the 34-year-old Goncharenko said. "[Fabregas] is a player without defects ... he can play in different positions, pass and finish."
BATE have won the last five Belarusian league titles and enter with hopes of earning their first victory in the Champions League.
Even so, Goncharenko said his BATE and fellow minnows Viktoria shouldn't be content with just fighting for a chance to move on to the Europa League by finishing third in the group.
"BATE and Viktoria have been given the role of fighting it out for third place," Goncharenko said. "But why can't we aspire to more? In football, motivation is very important."
The Belarusian title holders have gone 16 games without a loss and command a strong lead in their domestic league, but they are coming off a 1-1 draw at Belshina Bobruisk.
Serbian striker Mateja Kezman, who played for Atletico and Chelsea, will spearhead BATE's attack.