Champions League Preview: AC Milan v. Barcelona

Date: Wednesday, February 20 2013

Kickoff: 2:45 PM ET (USA) / 20:45 CET (ITA)

League Positions: Milan (3rd in Serie A), Barcelona (1st in La Liga)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

Network: Fox Soccer Channel

Milan has improved a great deal since the start of this campaign, but let’s not sugarcoat it. This tie is an extremely tall order. Barcelona are a familiar foe (unfortunately) and while Rossoneri players and bosses have declared this to be a psychological benefit that will all go out the window when the opening whistle blows.

New savior Balotelli is cup-tied and Robinho and El Shaarawy are now listed as doubtful, leaving Pazzini to lead the front line with young and inexperienced Niang and possibly out-of-form Kevin-Prince Boateng.

But Milan have not won 7 European Cups by defeating soft teams, and to be the best you always have to beat the best (not Celtic).

The San Siro will be as vibrant as ever when Messi and company come to town and these are the nights you live for as a football fan.

Rise up, Pazzo!

Rise up, Pazzo!

Tale of the Tape

Last 6 Matches

Milan: DWWWDW

Barcelona: WWDDWW

Barcelona are undefeated in 22 of their last 24 Champions League matches in all rounds, and have not lost to Milan in 8 consecutive meetings.

Amazingly, each and every one of Barcelona’s goals in the group stage were scored from open play. They do not need to be presented with chances. They make their own.

Those familiar with Barcelona will not be shocked that they average an incredible 888 passes per match with 91% of these exchanges listed as short passes. Add their 76% possession to the mix and it becomes clear that Milan will have little choice but to try to strike on the counter or from set pieces.

Luckily, 4 out of Milan’s 7 CL goals this campaign have come from these situations (3 from set pieces, 1 counter-attack goal).

Milan also have the advantage in crosses and long-balls attempted, suggesting that they will benefit from trying to stretch Barcelona and making their aerial duel advantage (57% won to Barca’s 51%) count for all it is worth.

Missing Pieces (UPDATED)

We could really use the physical presence of Nigel De Jong in this match but he is obviously still out long-term. There were doubts about Robinho and El Shaarawy as well but it appears that only the former is probable to miss out.

*Update*- It appears Flamini and Nocerino are also out with muscular issues, providing Allegri with a real crisis in the midfield. 17-year old Bryan Cristante has been called up.

David Villa is out still for Barcelona, but they have roughly 12 players who can take his place.

Possible Lineup (UPDATED)

There is plenty of speculation about how Milan will line up against Barca on Wednesday. I personally believe Milan should stick to the 4-3-3 they have used for their recent successes but reports state that Berlusconi has insisted on a more conservative 2-man front line. Below are some options for each formation.

4-3-3

Abbiati

Abate – Mexes – Zapata – Constant

Muntari – Montolivo – Boateng

Niang – Pazzini – El Shaarawy

Again, nothing revolutionary here. I understand the desire to suit your play to your opponent, especially one as skilled as Barcelona, but Milan have only truly thrived in this formation so far this season. I believe we have the best chance to succeed if we play our game and show no fear they way Galliani and Berlusconi themselves have been suggesting in the run up.

And while I believe man-marking Messi to be a fool’s errand, if anyone on Milan should be given the task it is Montolivo, who has proven to be quite effective even when playing predominantly in Milan’s half. There then needs to be some kind of link between the different zones of play, which in this case falls on (sigh) Boateng.

4-3-1-2

Abbiati

Abate – Mexes – Zapata – Constant

Montolivo – Ambrosini – Muntari

Bojan

Pazzini – El Shaarawy

Most probably envision a 4-4-2 when thinking of a 2-man front line, but I still think that might be too conservative. It might turn into that anyways, but I feel we have to have some kind of sustained counter threat so as not to simply invite Barcelona to pour forward. Ambrosini and Muntari provide more grit and cover in this iteration and maybe we let Barca product Bojan try to bite the hand that used to feed him.

I’ll tell you one thing, I had a hard time coming up with this segment this time around and I do not envy Max Allegri in his selection dilemma one bit. I’m sure I’ll change my mind 20 more times before Wednesday, and I invite you to share your preferred formations in the comments below.

Forza Abbiati!

Forza Abbiati!

What to Watch for:

Danger Man – Lionel Messi.

Other Danger Man – Andres Iniesta

Another Danger Man – Xavi

Yet Another Danger Man – Pedro

And Another – Alexis Sanchez

And Another – Cesc Fabregas… You get the idea.

MMWMBMOTM (Milan’s Man Who Must Be Man of the Match) – It’s tempting to say Pazzini who will be the focal point of Milan’s attack, or Montolivo who will be faced with keeping them afloat in the midfield, but the truth is Christian Abbiati will need to be outstanding for Milan to take anything away from the match.

This is not the defense that Milanisti have been classically used to, and even if it was this Barcelona side would get some good looks at goal. Abbiati has not had his best campaign so far, but his best performances have seemed to come in the Champions League (away to Zenit stands out). That trend needs to continue unless the Rossoneri are allowed to field a large brick wall on Wednesday.

The First Goal – Obviously very important in any match, scoring the first goal in these two-legged CL ties where away goals are a tie-breaker becomes even more vital.

If Barcelona score first, they gain an automatic advantage not just in this match but in the tie as a whole. Milan will need to stretch even further, perhaps change the game plan (which they will hopefully have), and generally leave them more vulnerable to the dynamism of the Catalan giants.

However, if Milan are to score first, they get some automatic confidence and steer themselves towards getting some kind of result. Though we still needed a Thiago Silva header to tie the score late, fans will remember how Pato’s early strike energized the squad at the Nou Camp last year and had us believing, even if just for a few more days, that Milan could really top the best team in the world.

 

About Dave Lamb

Dave Lamb is a lifelong Milan supporter, public school teacher, and aspiring stand-up comedian living in Boston. You can follow him on twitter @DaveLambComedy

3 Thoughts on “Champions League Preview: AC Milan v. Barcelona

  1. RossoneriFido on February 19, 2013 at 12:30 PM said:

    With Flamini and Nocerino being doubtful. I do not think that anyone in our midfield can man mark Messi. Muntari Ambrosini and Montolivo are too slow for him. Yet if we play in a conservative 4-3-1-2 with Bojan behind the strikers and man marking Messi because of their pace in addition to being backed up by a midfielder/Fullback depending on where Messi is.

    Although I would have prefered a 3-5-2 with De Sciglio as a sweeper and Niang alongside El Shaarawy upfront. Because Barcelona prefers to attack from the middle with through passes and lobs behind CBs and since our CB sucks in reading plays, De Sciglio would thrive and intercept tons of balls.

    No matter what formation/tactics are used Milan will always make us proud and I believe we can give Barca a hell of a fight.

    Keys to the match:
    Beware from players coming from the back as Barcelona highly depend on players running without the ball.
    Pace. Barcelona are not a strong defensive team indiviually despite what many people think they do have good defenders at best. Barcelona defends in packs when they lose the ball but we have to be very fast in our build up plays. Which means always give the ball to Montolivo when intercepted who sould quickly pass/cross it to Bojan and/or ElShaarawy.

    Last but not least Forza Milan per sempre.

    • Dave Lamb on February 19, 2013 at 1:02 PM said:

      Sincerely appreciate your input as always, Fido.

      I agree that man-marking Messi is not really a viable option. It is very reactionary and as I stated I think Milan must do their best to play their game and not simply tailor themselves to Barca.

      The 3-5-2 is an interesting idea but to experiment against a team of this caliber would be incredibly dangerous. I would be interested to see De Sciglio deployed as a sweeper in a less risky match however.

      Also, you are right about our pace possibly giving Barcelona trouble in the back. If Niang/Bojan/El Shaarawy can put in some good dribbles it could pay serious dividends.

      That said, Pazzini’s strength in the air could be vital as well if we are allowed to play our wide game and is absolutely necessary if we are going to cash in from set pieces.

      I am really looking forward to this. Forza Milan!

  2. Well playing against Barça will be a nightmare no matter which formation you choose. Personally i think having the whole team zone mark and do this very disciplined like the last time is the way to beat a team whose only weakness i’ve seen in a long time is, is that when given completely the ball they dont know what to do with it. Relly on the counter att with el shaa’s speed. but our greatest weakness is and you said it our cbs and their lack of ability to read plays, yepes used to be great at this with the national team but age has caught up to him, and that is where we will fall unless as Galliani and Berlusconi have stated a miracle happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation