Some matches, regardless of the disparity of talent and quality between the two sides, are always a gigantic meeting with the eyes of Europe magnetized towards it. AC Milan, going through a weird phase of rebuilding or change, trying to surprise the all-conquering Barcelona in yet another season where everything is up for grabs.
It’s been quite a while since Milan have managed to beat Barcelona. The two teams played four times last season, with Milan managing to draw twice, but that was a different Milan side – champions of Italy trying (and failing) to win it again; not a team that still doesn’t have a home win in the Champions League this season, and their best striker, Mario Balotelli, can’t even play because of ineligibility.
Milan have bounced back in recent times, at least in the league. The arrival of Mario Balotelli next to the brilliance of Stephan El Shaarawy (15 goals this season, 2 in the UCL) have put them back in the top 3, still not losing a league match in 2013. Their defense, however, once a signature staple of every Italian side, has conceded 31 league goals this season, and isn’t the team’s strongest side.
On the other side of the fence, it’s Barcelona. A team you usually have a very hard time finding flaws in, and even if you do, the presnce of Lionel Messi, and the cadre of the best midfielders in the world starting behind him – Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets, makes you forget about the fact that they’ve struggled a bit in their away matches in the league (loss at Sociedad, draw at Valencia) and that they are conceding goals at a higher rate than before.
With Messi, the second best all-time scorer in the Champions League (56 goals in 74 matches, 5 this season), there’s really no reason for Barcelona to be worried against Milan, or anyone else for that matter. Their defense, while not at its best during the past four years, is still good enough to hold on against the few chances Milan are likely to create.
Prediction – Milan haven’t beaten Barcelona since 2004, drawing three times in their last 7 encounters. The team is much weaker than it was last season and their defense, with the mistake-prone Philippe Mexes, isn’t exactly a fortified castle. Barcelona tend to leave the deciding match to their home leg, but they should be too good for Milan at the San Siro as well.
Projected lineups – Milan: Abbiati, Constant, Mexes, Zapata, Abate; Nocerino, Motolivo, Flamini; Boateng, El Shaarawy, Niang. Barcelona – Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniets; Pedro, Messi, Fabregas.