Spanish giants Barcelona go into Tuesday night’s Champions League round of 16 second leg clash with AC Milan, with the Italians and history to beat if they wish to reach the quarter finals of Europe’s premier club competition.
After their subdued display in the first leg at the San Siro two weeks ago, they find themselves two goals behind thanks to an impressive team display by the Rossoneri. Barcelona also drew a rare blank in front of goal as their much-vaunted attack all failed to hit their usual heights.
With the two goal deficit and no away goal in the bag, the Catalans must become the first club in the competitions history to advance through the knockout stages after overturning such a position.
This great Barcelona team has broken many records and set the bar to levels rarely met before in world football and should they be able to vanquish AC Milan, this new achievement would be another to add to the ever-increasing list of milestones.
Who would bet against them with the plethora of options available to stand-in coach, Jordi Roura? Lionel Messi is the key to the final outcome, as you would expect. The Argentine wizard was both out-of-sorts and extremely well shackled by the Milan defence in the first leg and he will be determined not to be so ineffectual again.
The wide open expanses of the Nou Camp pitch are a dream for Messi who has scored an incredible 51 goals in 41 games this season and from the first minute Milan boss, Massimiliano Allegri, will have to find the way to stop the world’s best player and his accomplices for a second successive match.
Allegri would have been delighted after his side’s first leg performance. They nullified the considerable threat from Barcelona whilst hitting Los Cules on the break to great effect. Whether this makes Milan’s manager a tactical genius is up for debate.
Barca have been undone on several occasions in recent years by similar plans to those employed so fruitfully in Italy two weeks ago. Everyone remembers how Jose Mourinho first hatched the successful method to defeat the undefeatable when the coach at Inter in 2010. The scheme has since been re-employed by the likes of Chelsea and Celtic in more recent times to equally stunning effect.
There is no need for Allegri to try anything different in this tie. It is the home side who must take the initiative from the first whistle, while the visitors can set up camp in their own half and make Barcelona pick their way through the Milan minefield.
Just like the Manchester United vs Real Madrid game from last week, this match is beautifully poised and it is almost impossible to call the winner. But as with the game at Old Trafford, drama and excitement is guaranteed.