Champions League Round of 16 • Milan vs. Barcelona: No Regrets

We are no strangers to Barcelona. Having played them in both the Group Stages and the Quarterfinals last year in the Champions League, we actually played them more times than most of our Serie A rivals last season. But that was then. There are some new boys in Milano. A lot of new boys. In fact, Barcelona probably won’t even recognize us anymore. But they’ll remember the stadium, they know the colors of our jerseys, and the brilliance of our fans. So I say that tomorrow, we leave it all on the pitch. No apologies, no regrets.

"Let's eat them,"  Milan have the most brilliant coreografia

It is scary to compare our squad from last year to our squad this year. But our boys have shown that it’s not the size of your paycheck or the amount of name recognition or even your age or experience that matters. It’s heart, hard work, and maybe a little luck that gets results. Granted, Barcelona have all of those things. But at the end of the day, it is the result that matters. Last year, in the four times we played them, the results were two draws and two losses for Milan. And while they got the best of us, we were one of their biggest challenges. But the question this year is how can this Milan, Budget Milan™, possibly compete? Barcelona are widely known as the strongest, if not the best squad in the world. And yet more and more often, they are being shown that they are not invincible.

Barcelona are at the top of La Liga, of course, 12 points ahead of Atletico Madrid. Yet they have drawn not only to Real Madrid, but also Valencia and Malaga in various competitions this year. In the Champions League, they were beaten by Celtic in November, and drew with Benfica in December. But most notably, they were handed their only league loss this season by midtable Real Sociedad in January. Best team in the world? Maybe. Invincible? No. Can Milan  be the thorn in their side? Berlusconi believes that by simply man marking Messi, we can.

Rooting for Vilanova in his personal battle, but all Milan in our battle with his club

But it will take more than shutting down the 4 time Ballon d’Or winner, even Muntari has said as much. In addition to having such a tremendous squad, Barcelona have a cause: Their manager, Tito Vilanova, is currently in the United States having chemotherapy to treat his cancer. They will be even more driven to give him the victory and ensure that they make it past the Round of 16. Best wishes to him, but I would not regret handing Barcelona a defeat in spite of his illness.

Vilanova’s assistant, Jordi Roura, has called up Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Bartra, Sergio, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Montoya, Song and Tello for this match. David Villa has been left behind due to some continued problems with his kidney stones. Adriano Correia will also miss out due to some problems with his hamstring. But Xavi, who was doubtful, has been included in the squad. Their recent league record includes a draw to Valencia, then back to back wins vs. Getafe and Granada, with several players having been rested during the 2-1 win over Granada on Saturday.

Messi's bodyguards

Much has been said of Milan’s run of form of late. And regardless of where you attribute their success or when you consider the season to have started, recent results have given this squad confidence. In the league, our recent record is a win, a draw, and a win… but with all goals scored by Balotelli. And Balotelli is cup-tied, so will not be available to face Barcelona. Which is good, since he is twice as tall as most of them. But not as comforting for us. Add to that our path to the Round of 16: D-W-L-D-W-L. And both wins were away. Should we be scared? Of course. Is all lost? Not at all.

Much will depend on Allegri’s lineups. It is hard to conceive that he would change formation now. Despite his incessant “tinkering” at the beginning of the season, we all know that he can be stubborn to a fault, which in this case is probably the best. So in his 4-3-3, I would hope that he starts Abbiati in goal. The back line is up for debate. Will he pick the experience of Abate or the crossing of De Sciglio? He should have his center backs all available, and your guess is as good as mine as to which pairing he’ll pick this time. Bonera hasn’t played in a while, but plays his best against Barca. Zaccardo didn’t make the list, so my guess would be two of Mexes, Yepes, and Zapata. The left back should be Constant, but I suppose he could pull an Allegri and give Antonini a spot, who knows?

Last year, they were bench players, this year they are starters

The midfield is both more and less predictable. Montolivo should start, but will he also start Ambrosini for his experience? Boateng is his pet, but he may feel the need to play him up front, despite finally confessing that he is not a striker. Which leaves Nocerino, Muntari, and Traore to contend for any other available spots. Of course, he does have Cristante up his sleeve, too, who actually debuted for the first team in a Champions League match, but only as a sub, so it is unlikely he is considered anything besides “a player for the future.”

The front line is what everyone wonders about. Niang seems obvious, or at least I hope so. Despite just recovering from a minor injury, everyone expects Pazzini to start, too. But with El Shaarawy in doubt, will it be Robinho on the left? Or Bojan? Or the aforementioned mezz’ala, Boateng? Or will Allegri “trust in his youth” and be bold enough to put Petagna or Ganz in the starting lineup? All of these questions may be for naught, as El Shaarawy did train fully with the team on Monday, and has been playing with this condition for some time. It will all depend on how much Allegri wants to risk in the Champions League, and how much he is looking ahead to the important Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Will these three be our starting forwards?

Despite Milan’s “rebuilding” process, this match is one to watch. Barca know that we don’t need to water our pitch to get a result, we are AC Milan, and we come to play. We are not the Milan of 1994, and nor are they the Barcelona of that year. But until the referee blows his whistle at full time, the result is not decided. Will it be the powerhouse team that is a household name amongst bandwagoners throughout the world? Or the little boys with the big shoes to fill that have seven Champions League titles in their cabinet? Only 90 minutes on the San Siro pitch will tell, but I say we give it everything we’ve got. No apologies, no regrets.

This post inspired by the music of Rage Against the Machine

Champions League Round of 16
AC Milan vs. Barcelona
This match will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel in the US
(check comments for stream links prior to the match)

Listen to the Milan Obsession Podcast for predictions regarding this match
Champions League Round of 16 • Milan vs. Barcelona: No Regrets Champions League Round of 16 • Milan vs. Barcelona: No Regrets Reviewed by Elaine on 12:18 AM Rating: 5
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