Milan will be looking to upset the form guide once again when they take on Barcelona for the eighth time in just over two years on Wednesday. While few would question Barcelona’s superiority over that spell, Milan have consistently risen to the occasion and frustrated the Catalans. If they are to get a positive result at the Camp Nou, Milan will perhaps have to confound expectations more than ever as they travel to Spain on a woeful run of form and with coach Max Allegri under mounting pressure.
Milan have lost three out of their last five matches in Serie A, with a 2-0 defeat to Fiorentina on Saturday leaving them just three points above the drop zone. The latest disappointment has fuelled rumors that Allegri is set to be replaced, with there even being reports that former Italy Under-21 coach Devis Mangia has been lined up at his replacement. Furthering the uncertainty that surrounds the club, it emerged that Barbara Berlusconi had contacted her father, and all-powerful owner, Silvio, to request a “change in philosophy.” That has reportedly also put chief executive Adriano Galliani on notice.
While Allegri has been oft-criticized throughout much of his reign at the San Siro -- for stylistic as well as results-based reasons -- he has certainly not been helped by the quality of players at his disposal. Indeed, it would be hard to argue that this is the weakest Milan squad in a generation. Both defensively and creatively, there is little to be positive about.
Still, many of the same things were being said this time last season when Milan were also struggling down in the lower reaches of Serie A. It was the signing of Mario Balotelli in January that sparked a revival that got them back into the Champions League and gave Barcelona a scare in the knockout stages of the competition (even though Balotelli was cup-tied).
A similar unrelenting scoring run to that which Balotelli produced in the second half of last season would be most welcome for Allegri now, with the maverick striker having now gone four matches without a goal. It would be harsh to call that a drought, something which could also be said for Lionel Messi’s recent lack of goals. The Barcelona star has gone a mere three games without a goal, which is notable only because of the phenomenal scoring exploits he has produced in recent years.
It would also appear somewhat churlish to critique Barcelona, given that they have won 13 and drawn twice in their 15 matches in La Liga and Champions League this season. Yet, like Messi, the Blaugrana are not currently the all-conquering force that observers have come to take for granted in recent seasons.
Part of that can be explained by Gerardo Martino’s tactical shift away from strict tiki-taka as well as the team still adapting to it. Yet, at times, as in a narrow victory against neighbors Espanyol on Friday, the team looks devoid of the natural creativity that they once had in abundance and have become more formulaic. In recent games it has been left up to summer signing Neymar and the rejuvenated Alexis Sanchez that have provided the required inspiration.
Both Barcelona and Messi could click into full gear at any time, but, despite Milan’s woes, they could again encounter frustrations breaking opponents down on Wednesday. For all his purported faults, Allegri has shown that he knows how to make life difficult for Barcelona. Ultimately, though, especially at the Camp Nou, quality should win out to enable Barcelona to get a win that could seal their place in the last 16.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Milan
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.