MINSK, Belarus (AP) – With two hat tricks in his last three games, Lionel Messi looks primed to lead defending champion Barcelona to its first win of this Champions League campaign at BATE Borisov in Group H on Wednesday.
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 European opener.
AC Milan hosts Viktoria Plzen in the other group match. With Brazil forwards Alexandre Pato and Robinho unavailable, Milan is hoping that Zlatan Ibrahimovic can return from a leg injury against competition newcomer Viktoria, which 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. He is only two goals away from matching Ladislau Kubala's total of 194. Barcelona's top scorer is Cesar Rodriguez, who scored 235 goals from 1942-55. 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 forward David Villa said. ''Nobody can compare with him, and we are very happy to have him wearing our colors.''
Villa said that even after winning two European titles in three years his team is 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 Ibrahim 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 has won the last five Belarusian league titles and enters with hopes of earning its first victory in the Champions League.
Even so, Goncharenko said his BATE and fellow minnow 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.
Milan comes into the game at the San Siro following its first win of the Italian league season, a 1-0 victory over Cesena courtesy of midfielder Clarence Seedorf's early goal.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri appeared optimistic that Ibrahimovic will play.
''If he's OK he'll play from the start,'' Allegri said.
If Ibrahimovic can't make it back in time, Milan will be left with only forward Antonio Cassano in attack.
Viktoria won three straight away games in the qualifying rounds to make the group stage, and is currently fourth in the Czech league. It most recently drew 0-0 with Ceske Budejovice.
Milan's veteran side will also have to hope its legs can hold up against Viktoria.
''The same 11 have been playing for weeks and that's not easy,'' Allegri said.