Having rested a few players during the weekend clash with Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona looks fresh and willing to avenge the 2-2 draw sustained the last time AC Milan visited the Camp Nou in September. While the most recent goalless draw at the San Siro means the ball is comfortably in Barça’s court, scoring at the Camp Nou does not seem to be a problem for the Italians this season.
Although Milan can go through with a tie, it remains to be seen how tough a time Massimiliano Allegri’s men will have containing the high-pressing possession game of Pep Guardiola’s Catalans.
“We may dominate but you can never be sure because in any moment they can strike back,” Barcelona forward and Spanish international Pedro Rodriguez (24) said in a press conference Tuesday.
It took AC Milan forward and Brazilian international Alexandre Pato (22) a mere 25 seconds to get on the score sheet in Barcelona and his medical clearance could prove menacing to the questionable Gerard Piqué (25). Fortunately for the Barcelona center back, his partner in crime Carles Puyol (33) will likely come back into the starting lineup well-rested after the weekend.
Guardiola opted not to include attacking midfielder and Dutch international Ibrahim Afellay (26) in his squad. He and defender and French international Éric Abidal (32) trained with the squad Tuesday despite not having full medical clearance. Brazilian international Adriano Correia (27) will likely feature in Abidal’s place given the Frenchman’s impending surgery. He and compatriot Daniel Alves (28) will likely be charged with providing crucial width for the blaugrana on both flanks.
Other reinforcements include Spanish internationals Thiago Alcântara (20) in midfield, who’s stellar performance could earn him a starting spot, and Cesc Fàbregas (24) who was rested over the weekend. Malian international Seydou Keita (32) also remains an option should Guardiola opt for more defensive might. Unfortunately for the manager, Xavi (32) has experienced muscular discomfort in his calf over the last two days. Omitted from training but not the squad list, Xavi’s potential to feature for Barça remains in doubt until Tuesday’s training session.
The magisterial Lionel Messi (24) will most certainly feature and looks ready to claim yet another record. Should Messi poke past Milan goalkeeper Christian Abiatti (34), he will break away from Ruud van Nistelrooy (35), with whom he currently holds the record for most goals scored in a Champions League campaign (12).
Who Guardiola will throw in up front is uncertain, but he has a range of attacking options including Pedro, Cesc, Andres Iniesta (27), Cristian Tello (20), Isaac Cuenca (20) and Alexis Sánchez (23). If recent form is any indicator, Guardiola will likely stick with Sánchez and play an amorphous midfield attack partnership with Iniesta and Cesc.
The brightest boost for the Italians is the inclusion of Pato who could feature at the expense of Robinho (28) or Zlatan Ibrahimović (30), although the former seems likelier. Ibrahimović will be looking to settle the score against Barcelona having not actually been able to face his former team at the Camp Nou since he left in 2010.
Allegri will be without one incredibly useful Brazilian in the form of Thiago Silva, whose excellent defending and last minute header saw the Italians grab a crucial draw back in September. Veteran Alessandro Nesta (36) will probably feature at the back along with French international Philippe Mexès (30).
Another factor playing out in Guardiola’s favor will be the hamstring injury to former Barcelona midfielder Mark van Bommel (34), whose hard tackling will surely not be missed.
FC Barcelona probable lineup
Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Adriano; Thiago, Busquets, Cesc; Alexis, Messi, Iniesta
AC Milan probable lineup
Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Mexes, Antonini; Seedorf, Ambrosini, Nocerino; Boateng; Ibrahimović, Pato
Predicted score: FC Barcelona 3 – 1 AC Milan (3-1 Agg.)
Photo: Olivier Morin [AFP/Getty]