Massimiliano Allegri has voiced his frustration at his Milan side being written off in their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Barcelona before a ball has even been kicked.
While the draw pits two European giants head-to-head, Barcelona are currently in far ruder health, and are favorites to claim a third European Cup in five years. But Allegri believes that Milan can compete with the Liga leaders.
“Milan will definitely play a good game,” Allegri said, according to UEFA’s Web site. “It annoys me that we are already considered as a sacrificial victim. Unless the regulations change before Wednesday, we will start at 0-0 and my team must be convinced they can get through—otherwise there is no point turning up.”
Milan’s hopes are undoubtedly negatively impacted by the fact that January signing Mario Balotelli is cup-tied after his participation in the group stages with Manchester City. The Italy striker has notched four goals in his first three games and given plenty of indication of forming an exciting link up with fellow-youngsters Stephan El Shaarawy and M’Baye Niang. Without Balotelli, Allegri has hinted that Giampaolo Pazzini could start as the central striker, with El Shaarawy likely to shake off a knee injury and start alongside him.
Another blow, though, is the absence of Italy midfielder Antonio Nocerino, while Mathieu Flamini also misses out. Allegri has already revealed his back four of Ignazio Abate, Cristian Zapata, Philippe Mexes and Kevin Constant.
Having long since all-but wrapped up the Liga title, Barcelona are likely to be chomping at the bit to continue their quest for the Champions League.
With coach Tito Vilanova remaining in New York for cancer treatment, assistant Jordi Roura will continue to lead the side. And Roura has said that Barcelona cannot expect to have it all their own way against Milan.
“It makes no sense to talk about favorites,” he said. “I don't agree with those who say that Barcelona will definitely win. Milan are one of the most successful teams in Europe and San Siro is always a difficult stadium to play in. The atmosphere of the Champions League is fantastic and we are looking forward to this match.”
As expected, Xavi is fit to return for Barcelona after a hamstring injury. Both Adriano and David Villa will miss out.
D: Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant
M: Montolivo, Ambrosini, Muntari
F: Boateng, Pazzini, El Shaarawy
D: Alves, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas
F: Pedro, Messi, Iniesta
When the draw was made back in December, Barcelona appeared overwhelming favorites to progress. That narrative has changed a little in recent weeks.
Barcelona, while their results remain impressive, have not been at their best of late. A carelessness has crept into their game as nine consecutive games with conceding at least one goal would suggest. Whether that drop in intensity is merely because of their sauntering toward the league title or symptomatic of a larger issue shall be partly discovered in the San Siro.
While they have been slack defensively, there will also be a growing concern in attack. Lionel Messi is as prolific as ever, but there are not enough goals coming from elsewhere. Alexis Sanchez ‘s form is so bad and his confidence so visibly low that he is becoming the butt of jokes, while David Villa’s problematic kidney stones have arrived at a particularly unhelpful time.
As Barcelona’s form has dipped somewhat, Milan’s has improved dramatically. It had been a terrible start to the season by Milan’s standards, but the Rossoneri have now gone six games unbeaten and have climbed into the Champions League places in Serie A.
Balotelli has given the whole club a further boost and he will be missed, with Pazzini not offering anything like the same threat.
Milan’s biggest problems, though, remain in defense. For so long their strength, their current back four no longer inspires confidence among their own side let alone fear in the opposition. Philippe Mexes, while he can occasionally look a world beater, has a worrying tendency to let his mind go a wondering. Against Barcelona, that could be fatal.
Milan should score and at least keep the tie alive at the San Siro against a Barcelona side often not overly impressive away from home in Europe, but, even with Barcelona’s slight issues, it is hard to imagine them being able to avoid the concession of at least one away goal.
Milan 1-1 Barcelona
Where to watch: The first leg of the Champions League Round-of-16 tie will kick-off from the San Siro at 2.45 p.m. eastern time. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.