It’s back to the Champions League as Barça travel to Italy to take on seven times European Champions AC Milan in the quarter final first leg at the San Siro stadium. The stage could not be bigger as Barça attempt to take one step closer to a possible Grand Slam six-out-of-six season.
The two sides know each other well after meeting in this season’s group stage. Milan surprised us with a last minute equalizer from Thiago Silva in the 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in September but Barça assured top spot in Group H with a thrilling 2-3 victory in Milan at the end of November.
Milan will have to make do without Thiago Silva after he was injured in Milan’s 2-1 win against Roma on Saturday. With Abate also missing coach Massimiliano Allegri may go with a defence of Zambrotta, Mexes, Nesta and Antonini though there could be a place for Daniele Bonera. Van Bommel is suspended so the midfield should see the experience of Clarence Seedorf alongside Nocerino and either Ambrosini or Aquilani, while further forward Kevin Prince Boateng will fit in behind the front pairing of Robinho and Ibrahimovic in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Pep Guardiola may well choose the Barça team with this Milan formation in mind. In November he opted for a defence of three which seems to make sense given Milan’s lack of width in attack. However, without Eric Abidal’s speed at covering I’m not sure whether the back three is so advisable. Adriano is still injured so the logical choice would appear to be a back four of Alves, Piqué, Mascherano and Puyol with Alves being the defender with most freedom to get forward. If Piqué plays it will be the first time he comes up against his buddy Ibrahimovic in what should be a fascinating battle.
In midfield I think we will see Xavi, Busquets and Fabregas though with Keita and Thiago both fit there is plenty of healthy competition for these places. I think Iniesta will continue to play wide on the left while our main striking threat will come from Alexis and Messi. Pedro would be the other option and if he plays his work rate in pressing defenders could be very important as Milan without Thiago may struggle with the ball at the back.
Barça are obviously the favourites to reach the semi-finals but the fact that we got the better of the group games counts for nothing. We all remember beating Inter in the group stage two years ago before losing out in the semi-finals to a volcano, a dodgy ref and a packed defence. A lot of things can happen in 180 minutes but it is not much time to make up for mistakes, Milan showed how lethal they can be when they knocked four past Arsenal in the last 16. That night they were allowed to get into their rhythm so I feel it is vital we get off to a good start. As long as we don’t concede an early goal I am confident we can come away with a victory which will allow a little bit of breathing space for next Tuesday’s 2nd leg at Camp Nou.
Possible starting teams:
AC Milan: Abbiati; Zambrotta, Mexes, Nesta, Antonini; Seedorf, Ambrosini, Nocerino, Boateng; Robinho, Ibrahimovic.
FC Barcelona: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Piqué, Puyol; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Iniesta.
My prediction: AC Milan 0 Barça 2
Date: Wednesday 28 March. Kick off time: 8.45pm local time.