Barcelona will look to keep their UEFA Champions League dream alive when they welcome Italian powerhouse AC Milan to Camp Nou this week.
Heavily favored heading into the first leg, Barca were stunned 2-0 by the Rossoneri at the San Siro—leaving them much work to do here. Goals to Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari capped off a perfect night for Milan, which managed to successfully hold out Barca's rampant attack.
As a result, the second leg will see the Italian side carry a two-goal advantage into the tie with them, and leave Barca with a lot of attacking work to do. If they want to progress, Barcelona will need to score at least two goals to tie and three to win—all without allowing Milan to score as well.
There's no doubt that the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi are more than capable of achieving such a thing. The question becomes as to whether they'll be able to do it against this Milan team—as well as under pressure, on the biggest stage in world football.
That is the question that we'll find out the answer too very soon. Read on for a full preview of this one including all the key details and viewing information.
Date: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Start time: 3:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. local time)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Live Stream and TV Info
Live Soccer TV reports that this Champions League will be available for viewing on FOX Soccer Channel, FOX Deportes and SiriusXM FC throughout the United States. The fixture will also be available through ITV 1, UTV, ITV HD for United Kingdom viewers.
Biggest Takeaways from the First Leg
As mentioned before, Milan's stunning 2-0 victory in the opening leg has paved the way for a thrilling encounter in matchup, with one of the best attacking teams in the world now forced into attacking even more in order to peg back the two-goal margin.
The Rossoneri were technically perfect in their defensive stand against Barca in the opening leg, with the defense and midfield allowing few holes. They shut Xavi out of the game with a man-marking system, and in doing so, eliminated good access for Lionel Messi.
Milan were also deadly on the counterattack, with Stephan El Shaarawy proving to be a genuine threat down the left-hand side all night long. Granted he was at times wasteful, but he continued to get after the Blaugrana, and cause problems for their defense.
For Barca, the biggest key heading into the return fixture—which they didn't do in the first leg—is to hit the byline as often as they can. By stretching the Italian's defense, they will allow more space in behind, as well as space on top of the box, for Messi and company to capitalize on.
They will no doubt leave them exposed at times at the back in order to attack wholeheartedly, and Milan will look to counter again as a result. They need to be more clinical in this second leg than in the first, for they may get few opportunities to truly threaten Barca's goal at home.
After all, one goal for Milan could well put this one to bed.
Key Matchup to Watch: Xavi vs. Sulley Muntari
This might not seem like the biggest matchup out of all the potential pairings across this match, but this will be one that defines the outcome of this match.
Muntari did an excellent job shutting down Xavi in the opening leg, and then pushed forward to grab a crucial second goal for the home side at the San Siro. He was close, didn't allow any space, and most importantly, cut off the supply for Messi at the top of the attack.
Xavi will no doubt understand that here and look to get the better of his opponent by shifting the ball wide, and early. If he can release the likes of Pedro into space, the ball will then find itself into the middle and into good attacking holes—outside of Muntari's command.
His movement off the ball is also key, with his ability to drag Muntari left key to finding space out on the right flank—which Barca seem to do so well.
Expect the Milan midfielder to once again play what is essentially a "stopper" or defensive central midfielder role here on Xavi, and try to shut him of the game. Barca will be attacking, which will give Xavi plenty of ball, but if he can't get past Muntari then this one will be fruitless again.
However, if he can, then we definitely have a game on our hands.
Three Stats to Consider
6. It has been six years since Barcelona were eliminated in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League, going down to Liverpool in 2006/07.
3. Barcelona need three goals (at least) to progress here. Milan have conceded three goals in four of their last six away games in the knockout stages.
2. Barcelona have netted three goals 20 times against Spanish opposition this year in La Liga and Copa del Rey, but only twice in their seven Champions League matches so far.
Few games in world football carry with them the pressure and expectation that this one will, making for a thrilling Champions League encounter, no doubt.
Barcelona are a wonderful team to watch at their best and can simply tear open opponents at ease—perhaps even more so with their extra-attacking intent here. After all, few times have the best attacking team in the world been told that they must attack even more.
What the results of that will be are very interesting indeed, but the onus throughout this entire match will be on Milan and how they operate defensively.
They have the two-goal cushion to work with, and know that they can hold out Barca at their best, as well as score goals up the other end of the pitch. And that last factor could be the most crucial here, given how helpful the away-goal advantage would be for Milan.
It's hard not to see Barcelona—at home, chasing a two-goal margin—scoring goals, and it's hard to see them not netting at least two. Regardless of how the Rossoneri set up, Barcelona are simply too strong of an attacking team for there to be any other option here.
If Milan can score, the Catalan club will be in serious trouble (needing four goals to win) and this one should be all over. I think that might just be the difference again here, with El Shaarawy netting late in the second half to end Barca's Champions League dream.
Final score: Barcelona 3, AC Milan 1
(AC Milan win 3-3 on aggregate, away-goal rule)
How do you see this key Champions League match unfolding?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre