Barcelona...didn't win this weekend. Neither did AC Milan. In fact, it was the Italian scudetto winners that came back from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 with Cagliari, while Barca were the ones to lose the 2-0 lead and wind up with the same 2-2 scoreline. Indicative of what we'll see at the Nou Camp on Tuesday? Well, if predicting a match were that simple, there'd be no need for these detailed previews, would there?
Basing the prediction on last year's Champions League form would be rather silly as well, but in case you were dwelling in a cave last season, a quick recap: Barcelona won it all with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United, while AC Milan went out in the round of 16, losing to Tottenham Hotspur. Oh, and there were some fun headbutts and general fisticuffs involved in that bit of crashing out.
With the rest of the group including Belarus club BATE and Czech side Viktoria Plzen, Milan and Barcelona are certainly the favorites to make it to the next round. But a brief appearance in the tournament won't be enough for the Italian side this time around -- they'll want to prove themselves, and that'll start with a decent showing against the Champions.That means no mistakes.
And mistakes were certainly made this weekend against Lazio, when new boys Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse both scored on Milan within the first 22 minutes of their Serie A opener. Antonio Cassano then created one goal, for Zlatan Ibrahimović, and scored the second. But Cassano also squandered opportunities, preferring to showboat instead, and was at risk of being dropped from the Barcelona match in favor of Alexandre Pato. Instead it's Ibra who won't play, having picked up a muscle problem in training.
With Robinho also failing a late fitness test, and Pippo Inzaghi not included in the Champions League squad, Massimiliano Allegri has little choice but to pair Pato and Cassano up front. Clarence Seedorf sat out Friday's match and will be available, as will Kevin-Prince Boateng, despite hurting his shoulder when falling awkwardly. Genaro Gattuso left the Lazio match in the 20th minute due to an eye injury, but the change was actually beneficial to the Milan side, whose midfield looked much better with Mark Van Bommel stepping in. The Dutchman will likely start against Barcelona, meaning Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta will be saying desperate prayers on Monday night that they'll be protected from injury.
As for Barcelona, well, they proved they're not perfect this past weekend, allowing Real Sociedad to come back from a two goal deficit and claim a share of the spoils. Xavi and Cesc Fabregas scored in the first half, but Barca had a bit of a meltdown in the second. A curious backpass by David Villa turned into a through-ball to Sociedad forward Imanol Agirretxe, but his shot was deflected by the hand, yes hand, of Sergio Busquets, although Agirretxe was probably just relieved to have all body parts remain attached. Antoine Griezmann then headed the ball into the back of the net, and despite the flag being up for the handball, the goal stood and Sociedad had their draw. Considering Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes nearly conceded on what was meant to be a returned ball from Sociedad, I think it's safe to say the visitors' heads weren't quite in the game.
Milan shouldn't expect such niceties on Tuesday, with the champions eager to defend their title. Carles Puyol should return for the first time since May to shore up the defense, but he'll be partnered by Eric Abidal, with Gerard Pique out injured. Newcomer Alexis Sanchez is also set to miss out on this round of Champions League play wit a thigh injury, although no one should feel too sorry for him as he could have already been involved with former club Udinese.
AC Milan (4-3-1-2): Christian Abbiati; Gianluca Zambrotta, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Ignazio Abate; Mark van Bommel, Antonio Nocerino, Kevin-Prince Boateng; Clarence Seedorf; Antonio Cassano, Alexandre Pato
Barcelona at Camp Nou...yeah, it's near impossible to bet against that. Milan will score, but Barca will score more. 3-1 Barcelona.
The match will be played at Camp Nou on Tuesday, September 13th, kicking off at 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EST; 11:45 AM PST). SB Nation Soccer will be providing live text coverage of the match as it happens. For more on Barcelona and this match, head over to SB Nation's Barcelona blog, Barca Blaugranes and be sure to visit AC Milan Offside. Check out SB Nation Soccer for news and updates on all of the UEFA Champions League action.