Barcelona v AC Milan – Tuesday 12 March 7:45pm Live on ITV
Barcelona have given themselves a mountain to climb if they are to reach the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions League. They’re 2-0 down from the first leg against an in-form AC Milan side. Will Messi and co have enough to break down a catenaccio defence?
The Catalan giants have been going through a difficult period of late. Coach Tito Vilanova is currently absent through illness (he’s receiving treatment for cancer) and their results have been lacking in his absence, including two defeats to bitter rivals Real Madrid. They managed to get back to winning ways on Saturday, beating La Liga strugglers Deportivo la Coruna 2-0 at the Camp Nou.
If any team can rise to the challenge of overturning this deficit, you’d probably choose Barcelona. They have attacking flair in abundance with Messi the obvious threat, but players like Iniesta, Pedro and Fabregas could quite easily cause the Milan rearguard all sorts of problems.
But the Italians have been in excellent form in 2013. Unbeaten in this calendar year, they are showing early signs of returning to be the force in European football that they were during the 1990s and early 2000s.
They go into the game off the back of a 2-0 away win in Genoa on Friday evening, a day earlier than Barca played. Will the extra day of rest and preparation be key? It certainly won’t harm them.
Italian teams are famous for their defensive qualities so they are certain not to make it easy for Barcelona. Far from it. I imagine there will be plenty of men behind the ball the block the avenues that Messi and co often exploit.
But the players at the back for Milan are not as strong as teams of years gone by. There’s no rock like Paolo Maldini in the modern-day Milan side. Frenchman Phillippe Mexes is good on the ball but defensively he is suspect.
Milan have their injury worries too. Mexes was substituted at half time in Genoa as a precautionary measure. Striker Giampaolo Pazzini picked up an injury too in that game and won’t feature while they have fitness concerns too over former Portsmouth midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng. Oh, and Mario Balotelli is cup-tied so cannot play.
Barca have to go for it and with the ability they have, you’d have to think that there is goals in this game. It’ll be a big ask, but I think they can do it.