With only 8 teams left in the competition, the UEFA Champions League final in Munich is drawing closer. The upcoming 2nd leg clash between FC Barcelona and AC Milan is the pick of the bunch, as both teams have an abundance of talent that will be on show. The first leg ended in a 0-0 draw at Milan’s San Siro, putting all the pressure on Barcelona to get a win if they intend to continue their march to even more silverware. This will be the 4th match between these two sides this season, as they were matched up in the group stages, where Barcelona got the better of Milan in one of the fixtures.
AC on the other hand are leading their domestic competition and are on the hunt for their 8th European title. Barcelona have only won 4 European titles but their rampant success in recent times looks unlikely to end any time soon. Barcelona’s success in this clash will depend heavily on their insanely talented Argentine, Lionel Messi. The team from Italy managed to shackle him in the first leg, will they manage it again in Spain?
Building from the Back:
Barcelona’s back line combines the best of attack and defense, with centerback stalwarts Puyol and Pique taking the majority of the responsibility. The fullback lineup will most likely be Messi’s constant partner in crime Dani Alves and another Brazilian, Adriano. Its difficult to find fault with Barcelona’s defense, if Milan manage to score it will probably be down to a piece of brilliance from their own attack rather than a slip-up from Barca’s defense. A minor concern for Barcelona is that Victor Valdes is occasionally guilty of very sketchy clearances or attempts at punching out crosses he has no business apporaching.
Milan’s defense will be led by Alessandro Nesta, a classic Italian defender. Strong in the air, very capable of reading the game and able to get under even the best attackers’ skin. It will be up to Nesta to rally the Milan defense and protect his ‘keeper. Bonera and Abate, the two full-backs, balance attacking opportunism and and defensive responsibility fairly well and are unlikely to make any silly mistakes. Mexes might be a slight concern for Milan, his patience was running low with Messi in the first leg and he gave away some dangerous free kicks.
Controlling the Middle of the Park:
The combination of Xavi and Iniesta is the root of all Barcelona’s success. The two homegrown World Cup winners control the midfield with apparent ease. Both are good tacklers and win possession back on a regular basis. Their true value lies in how easily they can locate their forwards, the Blaugrana’s success will depend heavily on how often these two can put Messi and Sanchez into space. Busquets is likely to fill the other midfield spot, while he doesn’t get much credit he’s extremely efficient at winning back possession and giving the defense cover if Alves or Adriano are too busy pretending to be wingers.
Clarence Seedorf has been conducting the Milan midfield for quite some time, his game is stable and his work rate is excellent. Milan’s midfield is slightly lacking without Mark Van Bommel to provide some creativity and possession winning tackles, the majority of the responsibility will fall on Seedorf’s shoulders. Kevin Prince Boateng can create goals from nothing and won’t be afraid to have a crack from distance, but he was quiet during most of the previous leg.
Barcelona’s main source of goals needs no introduction, Lionel Messi is breaking as many records as he’s creating. If anyone is going to score in this game, it’ll be him. Everyone knows what this kid is capable of, he can run circles around any defender in the world with his eyes closed. Lets shine the light on some of the other attackers the Spanish outfit have. The Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez likes making clever runs and being a general nuisance. His shooting and dribbling talent will be something to watch out for, as is his penalty-winning guile. Pedro or Tello are likely to be complete the front three, and are both talented forwards in their own rights. It’s just hard to get noticed when you’re playing alongside the best thing since Maradona.
Milan’s attack offers a huge variety and can threaten the Spanish defense from several situations. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a textbook center forward: Tall, strong and able to hold up play while he waits for reinforcements, he’s a handful for any centerback. Robinho, their resident Brazilian will offer trickery and creativity on either wing. His ability to trick and bamboozle his way into the box is infamous, as is his crossing ability. Milan will be hoping he can put one of those crosses straight onto Ibrahimovic’s head. If Pato starts expect him to pressure defenders and provide a lot of ammunition for Ibrahimovic to latch on to.
AC Milan: Pato. Another Brazilian striker with stacks of talent, he provided a brilliant sucker-punch to stun Barcelona in one of their group stage matches.
Barcelona: Thiago. Quality crosses and deceptive pace are some of this kid’s talents, if he comes on when everyone else is trying to catch their breath he could cause havoc in the Milan box.
Messi Vs. everyone else. ‘Nuff said.
Ibrahimovic Vs. Puyol: The big Swede’s strength and smarts could wear out an experienced Puyol and might force fouls in some key areas.
Besides the two Spanish giants, AC Milan are probably the next toughest team left in the competition. They have a squad full of talent and consistency, and are more than capable of upsetting Barcelona. Their problem will be containing Messi, which will be made even more difficult by the incandescent atmosphere the Nou Camp creates. With that said, Barcelona have somehow managed to stumble against teams far inferior to Milan. In the first leg Milan used a shrewd strategy of keeping at least six men behind the ball at all times to frustrate the Spaniards. This tactic managed to keep the Barcelona attack at bay, and set up potentially dangerous counter attacks for the Rossoneri.
Going out on a limb: For all AC’s quality its difficult to imagine Barcelona slipping up. I’d say a 3-1 win for the Catalans is most likely. I wouldn’t be surprised if AC pull out a 0-1 smash and grab and stun the neutrals though. It’ll definitely be an intense match, and either of these teams could end up lifting the trophy in Munich. Let us know what you think of this clash and who you think will win!
Probable Starting Line-ups:
-Alves, Puyol, Pique, Adriano
-Iniesta, Xavi, Keita
-Messi, Pedro, Alexis
-Bonera, Nesta, Mexes, Abate
-Seedorf, Boateng, Ambrosini, El Shaarawy