Vilanova: It does not matter where Messi plays

The 43-year-old has dismissed the importance of the role the forward will be handed against Jose Mourinho's men, and maintained his side are not clear favourites entering the tie

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has played down any significance as to how talisman Lionel Messi is deployed during Sunday's Clasico against Real Madrid.

The Argentine has appeared in a number of positions for the Blaugrana, but his trainer has labelled how the striker turns out as irrelevant, arguing the defending Spanish champions would already have adapted to such tactical variations via past encounters.

"It does not matter where [Lionel] Messi plays," explained Vilanova to assembled reporters at a press conference. "Madrid will know by now how we play."

The tactician then went on to explain why no one side is favoured to win on Sunday.

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"Barcelona-Real Madrid never has clear favourites, regardless of where the teams each lie in the table. We've not beaten them all the time by a 5-0 scoreline. They have a very good squad, costing many millions more than ours," said Vilanova.

"All I'm focused on is claiming a seventh-consecutive victory, something no one else has achieved before."

Previous instances between the two Spanish heavyweights have often proven colourful encounters signified by political differences, something former Barcelona president Joan Laporta explained to – how the Catalan people were entitled to independence from Spain.

But Vilanova, who himself was involved in a high-profile physical altercation with counterpart Jose Mourinho in the past, believes this game could prove a turning point, where the spectacle on the pitch remains the focus of audiences.

"Tomorrow, you will only see a football game, nothing more. While there is a rivalry, this is related to sports, and has nothing to do with politics.

"I've seen what has been broadcast on television [regarding the infamous eye-poke by Mourinho], but I can say I am comfortable with my behaviour. I can say nothing more in that regard."

The 43-year-old has lost captain Carles Puyol for two months, after the veteren dislocated his elbow in the Champions League encounter against Benfica, although the defence could be buoyed by the return of Gerard Pique.

"We will only judge how well Pique's muscles respond tomorrow, before the game. He will make an effort to be ready. Any team would otherwise feel the absence of players of Puyol's and Pique's calibre," said Vilanova.

The Primera Division front-runners enter the match eight points clear of the defending Spanish champions, after an impressive start to the season that has seen Pep Guardiola's successor achieve an unprecedented perfect record in the club's opening fixtures.