It’s a big week for Barça with two massive games coming up. On Saturday it’s the first Clásico of the season at Camp Nou, but first we travel to Italy to take on AC Milan at the San Siro in the battle for top spot in Champions League Group H. Tata Martino has named a squad of 22 players for the trip to Milan, leaving out only Isaac Cuenca and the injured Jordi Alba and Abrahim Afellay.
Martino has demonstrated his intention to have the squad in peak condition at the end of the season by almost systematically rotating the players. Given the importance of the games this week it will be interesting to see whether Barça’s coach leans towards an once de gala or continues rotating. Martino hasn’t repeated a starting XI in the thirteen games so far this season and seems unlikely to change this pattern now. It seems likely he will have the Madrid game in mind when he chooses his line-up for Milan.
Over the years Barça and Milan have faced each other no fewer than fifteen times in Europe’s top competition with a balance of seven Barça wins to Milan’s four. In the last two seasons these two giants of European football have played a remarkable six times with Barça clearly getting the better of those matches. In 2011/12 the teams coincided in the group stage with Milan grabbing a late equalizer in the 2-2 draw at Camp Nou while Barça got revenge with a brilliant 2-3 win at the San Siro. Then in the same season’s quarter finals Barça went through after a goalless draw in the first leg in Italy and a 3-1 victory in the return. Last season we met again in the last 16 with Milan winning 2-0 in the San Siro before an unforgettable night at Camp Nou saw Barça go through after a splendid 4-0 win.
Milan, of course, are not the force they once were. This season Max Allegri’s men have started very poorly in Serie A and despite beating Udinense 1-0 on Saturday they are still only in 8th position, a massive 13 points behind leaders Roma. Allegri has had to deal with a bad run of injuries and for tomorrow’s game stars Stephan El-Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli are both out. Milan are also without first choice keeper Christian Abbiate so Marco Amelia make his first appearance of the season between the posts. The good news for Allegri is that Kaká is back after injury. After leaving Real Madrid this summer Kaká will be hoping to regain the brilliant form that showed in his previous spell at Milan between 2003 and 2009. There’s no doubt that the Brazilian disappointed in his time at Madrid but at 31 he still has time to rediscover his former glories. Unfortunately he was injured his his first game after returning to Milan and only reappeared as a sub in the Udinense game. The clash with Barça is a perfect opportunity for the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner to show the world what he can still do, though his lack of match fitness may mean he again starts on the bench.
With Barça leading Group H with a two-point advantage over second placed Milan, a Barça win tomorrow will almost certainly guarantee top spot in the group, while it’s probably fair to say that even a draw could be seen as a very positive result. Whether or not Martino decides to reserve anyone for the Clásico or whether he takes a cautious approach to tomorrow’s game remains to be seen, but given the magnificent stage of the San Siro Barça should always go out to give a good show.
Hopefully tomorrow’s game will not be influenced by any poor refereeing. I only mention this because UEFA have given the match to the German referee Felix Brych who this weekend made an almighty cock-up in the Hoffenheim-Leverkusen game. The only official Barça game in which Brych has previously officiated was the 1-0 defeat at Chelsea in the first leg of the 2012 semi-final.
Barça’s 22-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Song, Busquets, Dos Santos, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Milan: Amelia; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Constant; De Jong, Montolivo, Muntari; Robinho, Birsa, Matri.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Milan 1 Barça 2
Date: Tuesday 22 October 2013. Kick off 8.45 local time.