Champions League Match Preview: Barcelona vs AC Milan
AC Milan come to the Nou Camp with more than a small chance of progressing through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and knocking favourites, Barcelona, out of the competition at such an early stage for the first time since before Pep Guardiola took charge.
In the course of a month, Barcelona’s season has swiftly turned from a mid summer night’s dream to a haunting nightmare. With the huge lead atop the La Liga, their 22nd domestic championship may not be in doubt, but when you are Barcelona, the pedestal on which you are judged is higher.
Two consecutive defeats to arch-rivals Real Madrid have seen them thrown out of the Copa del Rey, and now they have the task of overturning a 2-goal deficit following their defeat at the San Siro. From the dreams of a treble at the beginning of the calendar year, the very reality at the end of the game may very well be that the La Liga will be their salvation for the season.
Milan have been surging up the table in the Serie A following their indifferent performances early on in the season. Their form has seen them take an advantage into the the second leg of the tie against Barcelona. For a team still thought to be in transition, the opportunity to knock Barcelona out of this year’s competition should serve as ample motivation.
All this builds this up as a mouth watering encounter between two of the biggest names in the world of club football.
The recent win against bottom of the table Deportivo may give Barcelona some zing going into the game, but 3 wins and 3 losses in their last six is not something you usually relate to FC Barcelona; but that’s what the reality holds for the Blaugrana. The main point of concern has been their defense, which has looked as impervious as a net in recent weeks.
Even in recent wins against Sevilla, the the defense looked troubled, and except for two clean sheets against lower division opponents Cordoba, the last clean sheet that Barca managed was back on December 5, on the final match day in the group stage of the Champions League against Benfica.
With no away goals to help them along the way, Barcelona will have to score at least thrice tonight. Going by their recent performances at the back, it might well be four or five that the Catalans may need to put into Abbiati’s net.
Massimiliano Allegri has had the Rossoneri firing on all cylinders, and four wins in their last six is a testament to the fact. Just as many were quick to point the finger at Allegri for Milan’s troubles early on in the season, he has to be given his due respect for changing it around for the Milanisti.
The players and especially the midfield has been rejuvenated and played a large part in thwarting Barcelona in its path in the first leg; but it was Allegri’s tactical masterpiece that made the win possible.
Barcelona were not only caught off-guard tactically but were made to look inferior to Milan, even though they were supposed to have a stroll about at the San Siro to go back home with a decisive advantage with their star studded line-up.
The ball will be in Milan’s court, and the game presents them with the natural option of playing on the counter, which they did with devastating effect at the San Siro.
Xavi is likely to feature in the game after recovering from hamstring trouble. The influential Spanish midfielder has been training with the team.
Mario Balotelli being cup tied, won’t be featuring in the game, but that was a fact the Milanistis already knew of. The big blow for Milan would be the absence of Giampaolo Pazzini who had a big role to play in the first leg of the tie. He has been diagnosed with a micro-fracture in his right fibula.
Philippe Mexes and Kevin-Prince Boateng are likely to feature despite carrying slight knocks.
1- Lionel Messi was allowed only one touch inside the Milan box in the first leg and failed to record a single shot on target.
2- Barcelona have failed to score any goal in their last two Champions League games. The last time this happened was in April 2008.
4- Stephan El Shaarawy has been involved in four of AC Milan’s last eight goals in this season’s Champions League (2 goals and 2 assists).
6- Barcelona have conceded at least once in their last six knock-out games in the Champions League at the home.
8- AC Milan haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 8 away games in the Champions League.