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Lionel Messi vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Who Will Lead Their Team to Victory?

Xoel CardenasContributor IIIJanuary 8, 2017

Lionel Messi vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Who Will Lead Their Team to Victory?

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    Former teammates and now foes will face off in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals as Zlatan Ibrahimović and his AC Milan team will host Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona.

    As great as some of the other players are on the pitch, there is no question that Zlatan and Messi will be the two best and most important players on the pitch.

    Zlatan has been the best player in Serie A. He has 22 goals this season for the Rossoneri and is their emotional leader. Ibra has let his emotions get the better of him this season as well, as he was suspended for three games for slapping Napoli’s Salvatore Aronica.

    Since coming off suspension, Zlatan has scored seven goals in four games.

    On the other side, you have the little genius of Lionel Messi.

    Messi is on a tear again this season, scoring 35 goals in 28 games in La Liga and a total of 55 goals in all competitions. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner is looking better than ever after a weak January and early February. He recently became FC Barcelona's all-time leading goal scorer, passing Cesar Rodriguez. Messi now has 235 total goals with FC Barcelona.

    Messi is still 24, let's not forget.

    There's no doubt that all eyes will be on Zlatan and Messi. So what do these two players have to do to lead their team to victory, other than obviously score goals?

    Here's what I think.

For Zlatan

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    For Zlatan, getting his teammates involved is a key. It may sound like an obvious answer, but remember that this is Ibra we're talking about. Like any other striker, he wants to make plays on his own and score goals.

    Of course Ibra should go for goals, but hopefully for Milan he will not get into a zone where he's only thinking about the goal.

    People forget that when Ibra has to pass, he's actually very good.

    If Ibra is able to focus on getting his teammates involved and not so much on trying to carry the team on his back with goals, he will have a great night. I say this because Zlatan will be more-than-looking to get a goal against his former team, but more importantly for him, to make Pep Guardiola suffer. Zlatan needs to be unselfish and distribute the ball and not just go for the goal.

    He’s been getting his teammates involved all season, so he should be good.

    Milan should have Robinho back after the Brazilian missed last week’s Serie A game. Kevin Prince Boateng will be ready for the match. It’s vital that Zlatan help get both Robinho (if he plays) and Boateng back into game rhythm.

    If Robinho and Boateng cannot find their groove early in the game and with no Alexandre Pato to come off the bench, Zlatan may be forced to try and do everything by himself.

    That would be a disaster for Milan.

    Zlatan will have Urby Emanuelson to come forward and help as well.

For Messi

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    As for Lionel Messi, look for him to attack more than usual. Why so?

    One reason will be because Milan will be without Thiago Silva for the quarterfinals, as he is out with an injury. Also, no Mark Van Bommel (suspension) to reinforce the Milan midfield as well as an attacking Emanuelson will open up the Milan midfield for Messi to attack.

    Another key for Lionel Messi will be his teammate Xavi’s play. If Xavi, who sat last week’s La Liga match against Mallorca, starts off rusty, Messi, like Ibra, will try and force his will on his own instead of waiting for the mids to start the offense.  

    Normally, I would say any player trying to impose their will and single-handedly win a game is a recipe for disaster, kind of like I mentioned with Ibra.

    But, this is Lionel Messi. He’s the exception. We’ve all been witness to his greatness and we’ve seen him win games on his own before.

    It’s best that Leo lets Xavi and Andres Iniesta dictated the first minutes of the game.

    Another player that Messi needs to have a big game is Cesc Fàbregas. Cesc has played well of late, but a big game from him is needed. With the tall Sergio Busquets more than likely playing more defense to help cover the equally tall Ibrahimović, Xavi and Iniesta will need Cesc to be the third midfielder and set up both Messi and Alexis Sánchez.

    If the rest of the team depend on Messi to make all the goal-scoring plays, Barcelona will be in trouble.

Prediction

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    I think Milan will try and attack as they have always done against Barcelona. Look for Ibra to try and expose the Barça back line–in particular the struggling Carles Puyol and the shorter Javier Mascherano.

    The first 20 minutes is very critical for Barça’s back line.

    In Tuesday’s press conference, Pep said, “We must deactivate Ibra and Milan’s ability to monopolize the ball.”

    Gerard Piqué also stated the importance of stopping Ibra from getting the ball at the same press conference.

    “(We) need to be attentive and not let him (Ibrahimović) breathe because this year he has been on a roll."

    Look for Pep’s defense to put an extra emphasis on Zlatan and try to minimize his actions. Pep knows with a slowed down Ibra, it will be tough for Milan to get any goals in the game.

    I’ll be interested to see how Milan defends Messi. With Silva out, we’ll see who Milan Manager Massimiliano Allegri goes with to fill in for the Brazilian. Ignazio Abate is also out with a muscle injury.

    With both teams having back-line issues, I look to the midfield and the attack, and it’s FC Barcelona who clearly has the advantage.

    I see Barcelona controlling the ball, especially in the second half, Messi teaming up with Sanchez for goals. Milan’s injuries to the back line are more significant (Silva and Abate) than Barcelona’s (Adriano; Abidal’s situation is not considered an injury).

    Milan will get their goal but with a shaky Robinho (if he plays), and with no Alexandre Pato to give them that dynamic player they need in order to beat Barcelona, I don’t see Milan having enough offense to win the game. If Milan uses their mids to attack, it could spell trouble for Barcelona. However, it could also lead to many counterattacks by the Catalans.

    It will be a good game, but in the end, Messi’s team will leave the San Siro with the away goals they need.

    Score: AC Milan—1,  FC Barcelona—2

    Visca el Barça! Check out the Barça Toons video above.

     

     

    Often imitated by other writers but never duplicated, Xoel!

    Thanks for reading. Look out for my next article later this week.

    Follow me on Twitter: @XoelCardenas


    Don’t forget to check out my other columns:

    5 Reasons Why Pedro Has Been Barcelona's Most Disappointing Player This Season

    FC Barcelona: La Liga Race Back On! Real Slipping and Barça Rising

    Ànims Abidal! Éric Abidal and the Future of FC Barcelona's Back Line

    FC Barcelona: Why Sergio Busquets is Barça’s Most Underrated Player

    FC Barcelona: Leo Messi: King of the Night. King of Football Kings

    FC Barcelona: 5 Big Transfer Rumors Fans Would Love To See Come True This Summer

    FC Barcelona: 5 Former Barça Players Who Could Succeed Pep Guardiola

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