Barça versus Milan in the Champions League. Games don’t get much bigger than this. With all to play for after last week’s 0-0 draw at the San Siro Pep Guardiola is quite right to call this the most important match of the season.
Nobody should need reminding of how dangerous Milan can be, when the two sides met at Camp Nou in the group stage in September Milan stole a 2-2 draw despite being outplayed for most of the match, and a repeat of that scoreline would see Barça miss out on a fifth consecutive Champions League semi-final.
Milan’s flight to Barcelona today has been delayed for three hours thanks to French air traffic controllers. The news from Milan is that Pato is travelling with the squad but we shall just have to wait and see if he makes a surprise reappearance. Abate is also fit again though Van Bommel has been left out with a back problem. Milan rested Seedorf, Nesta and Boateng at the weekend and drew 1-1 at Catania which saw their lead over second placed Juventus reduced to two points. Robinho scored the goal in that game but I would not be surprised to see him benched tomorrow in favour of someone who works a bit more defensively such as Emanuelson.
For Barça there are two basics: we must score, and we mustn’t concede. The statistics point in our favour here as we have scored in our last 17 Champions League games at Camp Nou (since the 0-0 with Chelsea in 2009) while we have kept clean sheets in an impressive 15 out of 24 home games this season. The formation of our defence could play a crucial part in the game, and as I say in this week’s Talking Barça, I think there is a very good case for playing Adriano at left back.
In Milan we played Puyol at left back with Iniesta wide in attack but we failed to create much down this side as Iniesta drifts inside and Puyol doesn’t overlap well on the left. We could of course move Iniesta back to partner Xavi in midfield and play either Tello, Pedro or Cuenca up front with Alexis and Messi but this would mean sacrificing Cesc Fabregas, and I have to say I have a strong feeling that this could be a game for Cesc. If Fabregas plays then I’m sure we will see Iniesta on the left again, in which case surely it is better to have a good attacking full back like Adriano.
This leaves us with a choice of two from three for the centre back positions. If we are worried about corners and set pieces then Piqué and Puyol would be the choice, if we want the best pair for covering our advanced full backs then Mascherano and Puyol should play, while for bringing the ball out from the back Piqué and Mascherano would be best, while we shouldn’t forget that Puyol is our only player in danger of suspension for the first semi final if he gets a yellow card.
It’s going to be tense and it’s going to be thrilling. I’m going for a Barça victory with goals from Fabregas and Messi.
FC Barcelona: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Muniesa, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Keita, Fabregas, Iniesta, Messi, Alexis, Pedro, Cuenca, Tello.
AC Milan: Abbiati, Amelia, Piscitelli, Abate, Antonini, Bonera, De Sciglio, Mesbah, Mexes, Nesta, Zambrotta, Yepes, Ambrosini, Aquilani, Boateng, Emanuelson, Nocerino, Seedorf, El Shaarawy, Ibrahimovic, Maxi Lopez, Pato, Robinho.
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Alexis, Messi, Iniesta.
Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Nesta, Antonini; Nocerino, Ambrosini, Seedorf; Boateng; Emanuelson, Ibrahimovic.
My prediction: Barça 2 Milan 0
Date: Tuesday 3rd April. Kick off 8.45pm local time.
If the game ends 0-0 it will go to extra time and then penalties. The winner will play the semi-final at either Chelsea or Benfica on April 18 with the return leg at home on April 24