Milan no match for Barcelona might

Last season, AC Milan did extremely well to hold Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash at the San Siro.

Massimo Ambrosini; Gerard Pique: AC Milan v Barcel
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Although even then, it was for nought as the La Liga giants eased to a 3-1 victory at the Nou Camp to see off the Rossoneri and advance to a semi-final meeting with Chelsea.

Both sides, who have illustrious histories in Europe's premier club competition, meet again on Wednesday - this time in the Round of 16 - and while Milan once again have home advantage in the first leg, it is unlikely they will be able to keep Barcelona at bay.

Massimiliano Allegri's side are a far cry from the team that took to the San Siro field last March, one that boasted the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf.

Although Nesta and Seedorf were reaching the end of their Milan careers, they were still integral to the side and have not been adequately replaced in the starting XI, with Philippe Mexes and Riccardo Montolivo flattering to deceive on a regular basis.

It is for this very same reason that they currently find themselves fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leaders Juventus, although admittedly they are on a seven game unbeaten run at the moment.

The Rossoneri have been galvanised in recent weeks by the January signing of Mario Balotelli, who has netted four goals in his first three appearances for his new club, and he appears to be Allegri's best bet for a proper successor to Ibrahimovic, in terms of a spearhead in attack that strikes fear in the hearts of opposition defenders.

However, given he will not be eligible for Wednesday's clash having played in the competition earlier in the season with Manchester City, Allegri is likely to have to plump for Giampaolo Pazzini, who has only scored 11 goals all season long and had to settle for a place on the bench in Friday's 2-1 win over Parma.

One of the few Milan players that have shone this this season - Stephan El Shaaraway - faces a race against a time to be fit for the game, after training only briefly on Sunday. Should he, their top scorer so far, miss out as well, it would mean the Serie A side will be without two of Allegri's first-choice strike trio.

Of course, the Rossoneri boss has not been afraid to blood young forward M'Baye Niang in recent weeks and he would pose an unfamiliar threat to the Barca defence, but playing an 18-year-old in a league match against Cagliari is a completely different proposition to a Champions League last-16 encounter against the 2009 and 2011 European champions.

His own selection problems aside, Allegri will also have to contend with the might of an opposition side who are currently 12 points clear of their nearest challengers in La Liga, and who have lost just twice all season long, excluding a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa.

And Milan left-back Kevin Constant, who has enjoyed a regular first-team role this season, is under no illusions about the magnitude of the task that awaits his side.

"We need to have plenty of patience because they [Barcelona] keep the ball very well," he told Milan Channel. "But we also have to try to pass the ball around.

"We'll have to be aggressive to win as many challenges as possible and try to score a goal, which would be important."

But while the overflowing talent at Barca means they have match-winners all over the park, there are no prizes for guessing who Constant singled out as their danger man.

"We see every Sunday what Messi can do," the Guinea international added.

"He's scored in the last 14 consecutive games and looks as if he'll never stop scoring. It's up to us to stop him and his team.

"We have to think about playing our own game and hope that we play a great game."

Messi is clearly showing no signs of stopping at the moment and his brace in Saturday's 2-1 win over Granada saw him pass the 300-goal mark in his career.

 

However, he isn't the only one Milan will have to be wary of, given the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and Xavi are all capable of popping up with a goal, while, in the unlikely event that Barca desperately need more firepower up front, waiting in the wings are Alexis Sanchez and David Villa; the latter should he be fully recovered from his recent problem with kidney stones.

Given Milan aren't likely to keep the opposition attack at bay, they will need to deal their own damage on the scoreboard, but with Dani Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba all available, doing that will be far from an easy feat.

More worryingly for Allegri and his charges, Barca have not been defeated by the Rossoneri since October 20, 2004 when an Andriy Shevchenko strike consigned the Spaniards to a 1-0 defeat.

Back then, Shevchenko was still one of the world's deadliest strikers and even last season when they had Ibrahimovic - a man at the peak of his powers - to call upon, it still wasn't enough.

This tie is going only one way.



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