Mascherano cautious ahead of 'tricky' tie
Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano believes Champions League opponents AC Milan should be viewed as one of Europe's biggest clubs.
The Spanish giants will meet Milan in the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition, with the first leg to be held at the San Siro on Wednesday.
Mascherano said Milan should not be underestimated despite losing a host of key players in recent years.
"Milan have broken away from players like Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, (Alessandro) Nesta and (Clarence) Seedorf," he said.
"(But) the AC Milan is the AC Milan that remains, and continues having a long tradition in the competition and must be respected.
"They will be tricky but we hope to keep up our form and pass the tie."
Mascherano said Barcelona can prove why they remain Champions League favourites when they travel to Milan.
"We know we have that role but ultimately now we have to prove it on the pitch and we'll hopefully do it again," he said.
"I think the game comes at a good time because we are first in the league, we are challenging to be in the final of the Copa del Rey in a few days and now we begin the Champions League campaign.
"We hope to continue with the same mentality and the same positive path we came from in the other two competitions."
Mascherano singled out Mario Balotelli as a threat, the striker having scored four times since joining Milan from English Premier League champions Manchester City.
"Balotelli is a major player especially for Italian football," he said.
"They have recovered a player along with (Andrea) Pirlo who were instrumental in the last European Championship where Italy reached the final.
"Beyond that he may not have had all the continuity that the world expected him to take on at Manchester City.
"He is a player that is of a young age and the change of English football for the Italian football is good for him."