Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan in action during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and AC Milan at Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence, Italy. Milan face FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, November 23, 2011. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
AC Milan and Barcelona fight for the top spot in Group H of the UEFA Champions League
Unsurprisingly, Group H in the UEFA Champions League has come down to the second fixture between Barcelona and AC Milan. Though Milan stumbled against BATE Borisov and drew in the last round, they still control their own destiny and can go through in first place if they defeat the Blaugranas at the San Siro. Barcelona will be slight favorites, but these are teams going in opposite directions in terms of health at present.
Andres Iniesta sustained an injury on the weekend and will not play, while Alexandre Pato made a return from injury at the weekend and could start against Barcelona. Robinho is likely to be the man dropped to the bench, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic will almost certainly start against his old club. Barcelona have a variety of options in midfield to replace Iniesta, with Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas both healthy.
Milan will probably make one change of their own in the midfield, bringing on Mark Van Bommel for one of the midfield players that started against Fiorentina. Alberto Aquilani, Antonio Nocerinio or Massimo Ambrosini could likely come out, with creative outlet Clarence Seedorf likely to remain. Kevin-Prince Boateng is still injured, along with attacking midfielder/second striker Antonio Cassano. That pair were arguably their best two players early in the season, and the pressure will be on Aquilani and Ibrahimovic to replace most of what they do for the team. Gennaro Gattuso is also still out, though he has returned to training.
When these two sides met in the first round of Champions League play, Barcelona were superior in possession as usual but could only manage a 2-2 draw. Pato scored a brilliant goal just 30 seconds in, torching Javier Mascherano who looked every part of a fill-in, unnatural central defender. Barcelona scored the next two goals before Thiago Silva snatched a stoppage time equalizer with a brilliant header on a corner kick.
Based on Barcelona's brilliant form as of late and the injuries to Milan's key forward players, it would be surprising to see a repeat performance. However, their midfield is strong enough to stifle Barca a bit, even without Gattuso, while Ibrahimovic and Pato are capable of making goals from nothing. Milan are already going through to the knockout stages unless a true miracle happens for BATE Borisov, but they'll need a minor miracle of their own to go through in first.
AC Milan vs. Barcelona kicks off at 2:45 pm ET and we'll have live coverage in our UEFA Champions League Wednesday, Matchday 5 StoryStream. For more on the two teams, check out Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes and The AC Milan Offside. For more on the entire world of football, head over to SB Nation Soccer.