The goal was to steady the ship, after one of the rockiest 10 days Barcelona have been through in quite some time. While Lionel Messi and to most people’s surprise, Alexis Sanchez, set up a much needed league win over an insignificant rival, everyone thoughts are geared towards later on this week.
AC Milan are the hottest team in Italy at the moment, but won’t be playing the same way they do against most of their rivals. Their defensive stand blended with sporadic counter attacking we saw at the San Siro? It’ll probably a bit more defensive at the Camp Nou, and that’s all Barcelona are thinking about.
But first thing’s first – stopping the disastrous snow ball against Deportivo. And we saw a Barcelona that had their confidence bone hacked away at for quite some time with three big defeats that no one expected would come all at once. The changes in the lineup were mostly as resting opportunities for Messi, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, but also an opportunity to see if there’s someone who is worthy of a spot in a desperate attempt to make this season about more than just one title.
Answers? There has been some thought about Barcelona using an ultra-attacking lineup against Milan, maybe not from the kickoff but installed gradually if the goals don’t come early, which will be some sort of 3-4-3, as Puyol is the only centre back, with Pique as a DM and Lionel Messi as an attacking midfielder, whiel Tello, Villa and Pedro/Alexis man the front three. It’s hard to see something like this happening unless Barca do find themselves late and in need of a goal.
What did we learn from the 2-0 win over La Coruña? Barcelona didn’t concede. Only four attempts, non of them on target, made for an easy match for Barcelona, who looked patient (some would say shaky) on the offensive side of the ball, not trying to go all out and get an impressive result. Finding the form of Alexis Sanchez will take more than just one goal, but it looks like there’s a chance that the floodgates are surely but slowly opening for the Chilean forward, who was very effective for Barcelona on his first season only to suffer from a long and frustrating drought this season.
It’s either him or David Villa. Barcelona need depth and presence in the box, and while Alexis isn’t exactly a natural striker, he can move well behind defenders and has a good shot from outside the box. And yes, while Barcelona are always about passing combinations and finding a man who slips away behind spun defenders, whether by Messi or by some 1-2 passing combination, Milan are a different beast, and without some long range efforts, it’s hard to see them opening the safe.
Javier Mascherano should play, but not as a centre back. Keep Puyol and Pique together, and give Sergio Busquets the night off. He didn’t start against Deportivo, which might mean he is up for his usual spot in the midfield against AC Milan, but his form has been far from satisfactory in the last couple of months. Same goes for Alba and Dani Alves, which should call for Adriano to start in one of the wing back positions, while Martin Montoya is ignored, but Barcelona need some discipline in the back.
Lionel Messi? It’s time for him to prove the last three weeks weren’t real. He’s human, but better than most when it comes to playing football. Maybe it’s about the orders from the coaching staff, maybe it’s just this gloom that’s fallen upon him, same as it did with Argentina when things didn’t go so well during certain Copa America moments 18 months ago. He doesn’t have to score, but he needs to be felt, like he was in the 28 minutes against Deportivo. Without that, and being left with just a La Liga title will be a disappointing end to a very promising season.