AC Milan did everything right in the first leg and stunned the world. Now they have to to do it again, but they have a little room for error.
There's a better than zero chance that AC Milan will knock Barcelona out of the Champions League tomorrow at the Camp Nou. There's also a better than zero chance that Barcelona will make a stunning comeback and improbably extended their run into the quarterfinals.
It's hard to imagine that Barcelona will be as poor as they were a few weeks ago in Italy. While Milan deserves a ton of credit for the Blaugrana's struggles, they did plenty of damage to themselves as well. Ultimately this match and the overall tie will probably come down to how well Barca adjusts to what Milan will be trying to do to them. Barcelona must deal with Milan's plan effectively, whether that's sitting way back or if they play their high pressure, highly organized style we saw in the first leg.
Barcelona knows that Milan will be looking to counter and get an early away goal and basically end the tie. It's their job to prevent it and get on the scoreboard as quick as they can to put pressure on Milan. The bonus for the Italian side is that their 2-0 lead allows them a little room for error, though they still should strive for perfection.
Xavi has been training and is apparently available for the match after recovering from a hamstring injury. One would expect that if Barca's midfield general is ready to go, he'll start, and as long as he's at least close to 100% that's a boost for them.
Milan will be without Mario Balotelli (both injured and cup tied), but they knew that already. The news that Giampaolo Pazzini will miss the match is a bigger blow both because he was great in the first leg and because the other possible replacements aren't the same kind of striker. Philippe Mexes and Kevin-Prince Boateng should both be available despite carrying minor injuries.
Projected lineups (left to right)
AC Milan (4-3-3): Christian Abbiati; Kévin Constant, Philippe Mexès, Cristián Zapata, Ignazio Abate; Massimo Ambrosini, Sulley Muntari, Riccardo Montolivo; Stephan El Shaarawy, M'Baye Niang, Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Dani Alves/Right side of the Barca formation vs. Stephan El Shaarawy: While there was not a singular performance that led to Milan's win the first leg, the play of El Shaarawy was close. His speed and creativity terrorized the Barcelona defense the entire night, but can he do it again without Pazzini up top to help him? Does Massimiliano Allegri go for a major swerve and not even start El Shaarawy? Assuming he plays, and I think he will, the better his performance, the better chance Milan have of advancing.
No matter who starts, whether it's El Shaarawy or another player, the Barcelona defenders have to do a better job containing Milan's attacks down the wings.
AC Milan vs. AC Milan from the first leg: For Massimiliano Allegri and his players to expect to walk into the Camp Nou and re-create their masterful first leg performance is probably crazy. Things are going to be different tomorrow, beyond just the obvious things like location, crowd, conditions, etc. plus Milan won't be surprising Barca this time around. They've watched the tape, they've been preparing for this match because Jordi Roura and his team know it's massively important.
Lionel Messi vs. Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata: This was a key matchup from the first leg and I'm leaving it in because it's still important. Mexes and Zapata did the job, along with their teammates, against Barca and completely frustrated and shut them down at the San Siro. More specifically, they made Messi look human. How well Milan's central defense duo does at limiting Messi will be a big part of this match.
One of two things is going to happen on Tuesday. Either Milan is going to replicate, or at least come close to replicating, their performance from the first leg. The other possibility is that Barcelona goes nuts and destroys Milan. So what happens?
You know Barcelona will score and make things interesting. You know they will play better compared to the first leg. However it won't be enough. Barcelona's defense gives up goals like a pharmaceuticals rep gives away branded free stuff. Milan will score a goal and that will see them through to the next round.
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