Sunday, March 10, 2013

Champions League Round of 16 • Barcelona-AC Milan Preview: On a Wing and a Prayer

After a perfect game in the first leg, Milan now travel to the Camp Nou for the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 matchup. We bring with us two goals – a wing and a prayer- and a lot more attention from the media. Will we be able to knock out the La Liga leaders? Or will they punish us for humiliating them at the San Siro? And if we do knock them out, what will they complain about? We all know they are not that accustomed to losing. But hopefully for our sakes, they will get another taste of it on Tuesday, because Milan are coming for them… on a wing and a prayer.

Boateng was the wing, Muntari our prayer
Since we last met them three weeks ago in Milano, Barcelona lost to Real Madrid twice in five days. So even beating the bottom of the table Deportivo La Coruña 2-0 on Saturday can’t have given them all of their confidence back. Compound that with Messi’s inability to score from open play against Italian teams, and I would guess that they are more scared than confident. Certainly Xavi, who is fighting to regain fitness in time, has been talking in the media about how Barca were treated unfairly in Milano. Sounds pretty scared to me.

But they shouldn’t be that scared. Roura rested a lot of players on Saturday. Xavi, of course, is still striving for match fitness after a muscle tear. Piqué and Pedro were rested entirely, and Busquets, Iniesta, and Messi all played less than 30 minutes on Saturday. Roura lined up Pinto; Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Fabregas, Thiago, Song, Villa, Sanchez, and Tello against the bottom of the table Deportivo. But he should have Valdes available for our matchup, as his four match ban following his verbally abusing the ref only applies to La Liga matches. And of course, his well-rested stars. So I have no doubt he will lineup all of his champions to try to stay in the competition.

You know what's unfair, Xavi? Those hideous candy corn uniforms.

Milan, on the other hand, sent Roberto Bosco, a member of their coaching staff, to the Camp Nou on Saturday to watch Barcelona’s match. This is probably an extension of Allegri’s now infamous tactical planning that afforded us the lead in the first leg. Now if only he had control over injuries. After having an almost completely healthy squad to face Genoa on Friday, both Pazzini and Mexes sustained injuries in that match that leave them in doubt for Tuesday’s trip to Barcelona. Boateng had not been called up for the match due to a little knock, too. And for those of you who haven’t been following as closely, Balotelli is cup-tied and therefore not at all available. If Pazzini doesn’t make it to the Camp Nou, we will have a big hole in our offense.

After insisting that he would not be resting anyone, Allegri tried to rest Abate and then ended up using him for about 20 minutes when Constant was sent off vs. Genoa. The flip side is that El Shaarawy got a little more rest than he might have otherwise. But then the rest of the team were stretched thin for that last 20 minutes, too. The bottom line is that Milan are going into this match tired, beaten, possibly missing a couple of key players, and traveling away. It seems like the worst recipe for trying to repeat their first leg performance. Our only solace is that if Allegri chooses to use Bonera, he has played his best games against the Catalan giants.

With faith, trust, and pixie dust, we'll see a celebration like this again on Tuesday

But I believe in Milan. We need to hold on. A win, a draw, or even a loss by only a one goal margin sends us through to the Quarterfinals. Who, looking at this team in October, when it seemed we wouldn’t even make it to the Round of 16, would have bet on Milan to make it to the Quarterfinals? Least of all by knocking out Barcelona? Allegri, that’s who. Finally, a proper use of his stubbornness. He has believed in this team all along, he has organized and put into place the perfect tactics to upset Barcelona. And like an airline pilot flying through the stormy night skies, if anyone can get our boys to pull off the unthinkable, it’s him. I trust that he will prepare our boys for the overwhelming Camp Nou. I trust our boys that their belief in themselves will have multiplied exponentially after playing the perfect game at the San Siro. I know that the Champions League is in the depths of our souls. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And we are Milan. So bring it, Barca boys. We want to give you something more to complain about. Whether we win or lose, we’ll have no regrets. We’re coming to your house… on a wing and a prayer.

This post inspired by the music of Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer”

Champions League Round of 16
Barcelona vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, March 12 • 20:45 CET (3:45pm EDT)
This match will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel in the US
(check comments for stream links prior to the match)