Although they have met before in the group stage, AC Milan and Barcelona will quarrel each other again, this time in the quarterfinals in the UEFA Champions League. These two sides are well-known to each other so expect feisty, maybe ill-tempered affair.
Milan survived a major scare in the first knockout out stage, barely hanging on against a surging Arsenal side that was down 4-0 after the first leg. The Rossoneri escaped with a 4-3 aggregate result and moved on to the quarterfinals. Barcelona had a much easier time, thrashing Bayer Leverkusen 10-2 on aggregate. In the group stage, the teams played to a 2-2 draw at Nou Camp, while Barcelona won at the San Siro 3-2.
Milan will be deprived of defender Thiago Silva, who is expected to miss a month of action due to a thigh injury. Add in Mark Van Bommel’s suspension and Milan will have an uphill undertaking to dispose the title holders.
However, don’t discount Milan despite the losses of talent. There is still quality that Milan brings to the table. Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the world’s great goal scorers and is a menace to every defence. The Swedish International is pacing the club with 29 goals in all competitions including 5 in the Champions League. The decision Allegri Massimiliano will have to make his who will partner up front with Ibrahimovic. The flashy yet brooding Robinho who scored twice against Arsenal in the first leg of the knockout stage, or Alexadre Pato whose play has been baffling lately. Italian neophyte Stephan El Shaarawy could see time on the pitch despite his lack of experience.
The midfield should welcome the return of Kevin-Prince Boateng to the starting eleven after battling injury woes. The Ghana International supplied a scorching strike against Arsenal, but has been awry since. Antonio Nocerino is a calming influence in the centre of the pitch who brings some vinegar and spice to Milan. There is talk that the prickly Gennaro Gattuso may see his way into the lineup. Gattuso has missed most of the season due to diplopia in his left eye and many thought his career was finished. One thing with Gattuso, he is as determined as they come and will never back down from a battle. Clarence Seedorf should be in the lineup as well. The Dutch International was taken off early against Arsenal but reports are he is match fit and ready to go.
The back four has been uneven, which is curious for Milan. They were abysmal in the second leg against Arsenal and must improve against mighty Barcelona or face a thrashing. Expect Alessandro Nesta, Daniele Bonera, Ignazio Abate, and Gianluca Zambrotta to start for Milan for the injured Silva.
Christian Abbiati will see plenty of shots coming his way. With Barcelona moving forward at all times, Abbiati will be under considerable pressure throughout the match. He will miss not having Silva in the lineup so Abbiati will have to be at his best for Milan to have any chance.
The current champions are a formidable side who bring class and majesty in their game. No player exudes that more than Lionel Messi. Arguably the best player in the world, the Argentine International leads the Champions League with 12 goals including 5 in the second leg match against Leverkusen. When Messi is in top form, he is virtually unstoppable. Barcelona will miss David Vila who is most likely gone for the season with a broken leg. His replacement, Alexis Sanchez has picked up the slack, scoring twice in the Champions League since coming in late in the Group Stage. Barcelona is hoping Pedro will be in the starting eleven so that Pep Guaridola can utilize his 4-4-3 formation that he favours.
The midfield, when fully fit is the best in the world. Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Cesc Fabregas are all magnificent talents who are adept at any style of play. Xavi and Iniesta in particular are talismanic in the centre of the pitch and both have made their case for being called best in the world individually. Sergio Busquests could be used as a holding midfielder along with the returning Thiago who Barcelona are happy to welcome back into the lineup after injury woes sidelined the Spaniard.
The back four may not have Eric Abidal in the lineup for health reason as the Frenchman is set for more tests on his liver. With Gerard Pique limping, the centre of the defence could be vulnerable unless Javier Mascherano steps up his play. Seydou Keita could also slide to the back although he prefers to play midfield. Dani Alves is a constant at right back and his surging runs could be useful against a leaky Milan defence. Captain Carlos Puyol could also see time although he is battling various knocks.
Victor Valdes is an underrated but steady keeper who is reliable when called upon. While Valdes will surrender goals, he will come up with the clutch save when needed.
Prediction: The loss of Silva is devastating for Milan. He is their best defender and Milan are shaky at best without him. Look for Barcelona to exploit that weakness and the defending champions move forward into the semifinals.
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