AC Milan will welcome arguably the greatest team in world football to town when they clash with Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, Wednesday.
The Spanish giants have been simply prolific through both La Liga and the Champions League this year, and present Milan with their biggest test of the season to try and progress through with a win, which, with a return fixture to the Nou Camp pending, is exactly what Milan will need to do.
Having said that, the Italian powerhouse will hold no fear taking on Barcelona, with their results this season showing they're more than capable of success. The biggest question, it seems, will be whether they can play a perfect performance right across the pitch for 90 minutes.
Either way, this is shaping as one of the top Champions League matchups for the week and a very fascinating fixture for both clubs.
Will Barcelona dominate once more with their tika-taka style and prove too strong in attack, or can Milan muster up their own offense and pull off the upset? Read on to see the key battles for this one, which will no doubt provide the answers to those questions.
Stephan El Shaarawy vs. Gerard Pique
Italian international Stephan El Shaarawy has been in dynamic form this year, and Milan will need him to do the same again here if they are to beat Barca.
Without Mario Balotelli (who is already cup-tied in the tournament), El Shaarawy is the definite go-to guy in Milan's attack and the potential difference maker here.
He'll be coming up against Gerard Pique in most likelihood, with the veteran defender more than capable of holding his own in this one.
The biggest issue here is if Pique gets caught too far up the field, which could result in some space down the left for the Italian international striker.
Riccardo Montolivo vs. Andres Iniesta
Ricardo Montolivo might not directly line up against Barcelona star Andres Iniesta in this one, but the midfielder could have a huge role to play against the Spanish international—particularly if both drift towards the center of the pitch throughout the match.
Montolivo could line up anywhere from central to right midfield, whilst Iniesta could do the same between the middle and the left. The pair are therefore likely to clash here, which could make this a very intriguing battle to watch.
Montolivo's attacking presence will be key in order to push Iniesta further down the pitch, and away from the top of the Catalan club's attacking unit.
Alternatively, Iniesta can have a similar affect on the Italian, who will most likely be defensive-minded in this one. If he can push him back into more of a holding role (potentially even pushing him onto Lionel Messi), then Barcelona could rule this midfield here and go on to dominate the match.
Lionel Messi vs. Philippe Mexes
Stopping Barcelona involves one main task—stopping Messi.
The man likely to be assigned that duty is central defender Philippe Mexes, who brings enough technical skill and speed to compete with the Argentinian. He most likely won't stay on him the whole match and will definitely need help marking up, but Mexes' ability to stop Messi from getting in behind the Milan defensive line will be incredibly crucial for the Italian side.
If Mexes can keep Messi from being at the top of the attack and turn him into the playmaker that he often becomes, Milan have more of a chance. That's not to say they'll directly win this match—it just means they'll be better equipped right across the field to defend.
Because Pedro shooting is a much better option than Messi.
How do you see AC Milan vs. Barcelona unfolding?
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