If AC Milan is going to upset Barcelona in the first leg of the round of 16, they will have to hope that Antonio Nocerino has the game of his life.
In the weeks leading up to the game, every Rossoneri fan has wondered at least once how this matchup would turn out if Mario Balotelli was allowed to be on the field.
The eccentric striker is ineligible to play any more Champions League games this season, as he’s already participated in the tournament with Manchester City.
Balotelli has had a solid start to his AC Milan career, with four goals in three league games and will be sorely missed against Barcelona.
Still, the Italian club can count on offensive firepower from Stephan El Shaarawy and Giampaolo Pazzini.
The biggest problem for AC Milan is going to be trying to stop the most explosive offense the world has ever seen.
That’s where Nocerino comes in.
He will be the Rossoneri’s best option to disrupt Barcelona’s offense during the game.
When I say Barcelona’s offense, I really mean Lionel Messi. Nocerino’s most important task will be to stop the Argentinian superstar.
AC Milan will be happy to know that when it comes to Messi and to Italian teams in the Champions League, the statistics speak in their favor.
Before last year’s second leg game between these two teams, Goal.com reported on Messi’s poor form against Italian teams.
At the time, Messi had one goal in seven matches against Italian teams and over 600 minutes without a goal in open play. The streak continued throughout the second leg, although Messi scored two penalty goals in Barcelona’s 3-1 victory.
It truly speaks volumes of a player’s ability when three goals in eight games is deemed subpar.
Nevertheles, Nocerino will have to be covering Messi as relentlessly as Wolf Blitzer covers the State of the Union.
He could also be counted on to score goals, as he showed during last year’s quarterfinal when he scored Milan’s only goal.
History is not exactly on AC Milan’s side. In fact, Barcelona is unbeaten in their last seven games against the Rossoneri.
But then again, this could work in Milan’s favor. Few leave them any chances of surviving the round of 16, so they can play with no pressure.
If Nocerino and Milan charge out of the gate and shock Barcelona, this could be a very interesting game.