AC Milan vs. Barcelona Preview: Clash of Champions League Giants
Wednesday night sees the first leg of the most mouth-watering tie of the Champions League quarterfinals.
Two of the greatest clubs in the history of the European game, both reigning champions of their respective leagues, will be going toe-to-toe in two of the most iconic stadiums anywhere in the world.
Over the past decade, these two have won five of the last 10 installments of the Champions League, with Milan also making another final.
The only factor that takes a little bit of the sheen off this fixture is that we have already been treated to it twice this season. If aggregate score had counted over their two Group H matches earlier in the season, Barca would have run out 5-4 winners.
Here is the team news, preview fodder and possible lineups for the first leg at the San Siro.
AC Milan Team News: No Silva Lining
Milan's preparations for facing the reigning Spanish and European champions took a major blow during Saturday's 2-1 win over Roma at the San Siro, when defender Thiago Silva limped off early in the match.
The centre-back was nursing an injury into the match against the Giallorossi, but manager Massimo Allegri's gamble backfired when his star defender limped off after just 11 minutes. The Brazilian left the stadium on crutches.
Right-back Ignazio Abate was already on the injured list ahead of that match, as were forwards Robinho and Alexandre Pato. Dutch defensive midfielder Mark Van Bommel is suspended after picking up his third booking of the tournament in the last 16-second leg at Arsenal.
One positive bit of news for Allegri is that attacking midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who scored a stunner in November's 3-2 defeat at the Camp Nou, is fit again.
Barcelona Team News: Tello Heads Young Guns
Barcelona have included four of their young prospects in the squad traveling to Milan, including Oier Olazabal, Martin Montoya, Marc Muniesa and Cristian Tello—the latter of whom scored two goals in Barca's 7-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen in the last round.
It may come too soon for this match, but there is some good news on the horizon for Barca, as Ibrahim Afellay has been included in the squad.
The Dutch winger has been out since September with an anterior cruciate ligament tear, but returned to training two weeks ago. It has already been confirmed that Afellay will play no part in the match.
Also sitting out will be left-back Adriano, long-term absentee David Villa, who is recovering from a fractured leg, and Eric Abidal, who is set to undergo a liver transplant imminently after having a tumor removed from it last season.
Preview Quotes: Zlatan Cool on Pep Reunion
An intriguing subplot to this fixture is another reunion of Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic with the club where he spent a single, controversy-ridden season in 2009-10.
The Sweden forward missed Milan's group game in Barcelona, but scored against the side he left under a cloud in the reverse fixture at the San Siro.
Ibrahimovic—who fell out with Barca boss Pep Guardiola in spectacular fashion—is in some of the best form of his career at the moment. His brace against Roma at the weekend took his Serie A goal tally up to 22 in 23 appearances, and he has scored in five of his last six Champions League games.
Barca defender Gerard Pique became friends with Ibrahimovic during the striker's year in Spain and is all too aware of the threat he poses. Pique said:
Ibra is a very difficult opponent. He's a complete player—he's good in the air, he can play on the floor, he can play with his back to goal and hold the ball up. We'll have to be very concentrated so we don't make any mistakes or leave space when he has the ball.
It's a pleasure to play against him as he's one of the best players in the world right now. It was a pleasure to have him at Barcelona and he contributed to our success.
We will do everything to ensure he doesn't play well or score but it's not just our defence, but the whole team that will have to play well to contain him.
Then again, Barca have a pretty handy forward of their own. Lionel Messi has scored an incredible 53 goals for Barca this season, including 18 in his last games in all competitions.
The reigning Ballon d'Or scored in Milan earlier in the season, albeit from the penalty spot. Milan coach Massimo Allegri has seen too many sides try and fail to contain Messi, and said his team would not attempt to park the bus as Inter Milan successfully did in the 2009-10 semifinals. He said:
It's difficult for us to play a match in the style of Mourinho's Inter, they were a more physical side. We will face Barcelona with courage, motivation and serenity. We have to try and make as few mistakes as possible and play with an attacking mentality.
Milan have never lost the home leg of a Champions League quarterfinal in 14 ties, but if that impressive run is ever going to be ended, then Barca are the team to do it.
Since losing the aforementioned semi to Inter, Barca have scored 60 goals in 21 games in the competition and lost just once. They have averaged 74.3 percent possession in their European games so far this term and are unbeaten in their last five meetings with AC Milan.
As always, the last word has to go to Ibrahimovic. On the subject of a reunion with Guardiola, he said:
Will I extend my hand to Guardiola? I don't know. We've other things to think about. It's not a big problem, I'll do my thing and he'll do his. There's no time to think about the past.
AC Milan: Possible Lineup
GK: Christian Abbiati
DF: Daniele Bonera, Philippe Mexes, Alessandro Nesta, Luca Antonini
MF: Antonio Nocerino, Massimo Ambrosini, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Urby Emanuelson
FW: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Maxi Lopez
Barcelona: Possible Lineup
GK: Victor Valdes
DF: Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol
MF: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets
FW: Pedro, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez.