Out of all the attacking options and strengths that Barcelona have heading into their must-win Champions League match against AC Milan, the man that holds the key for La Blaugrana isn't one that immediately comes to mind as a match-winner for the Catalan club.
David Villa has featured just 12 times as a starter and 13 times as a substitute this season, but his involvement in the second leg will be key for Barca.
His involvement has the potential to shape the entire setup of Milan's defense strategy and Barcelona's attack as a result of that. And what's more, his presence has the chance to seriously threaten the Rossoneri's hopes of shutting down the best attacking players in the world that Barca has.
That might sound strange for a man who doesn't feature that much for Barcelona at the moment and may very well not make the starting team for this week's clash.
But by playing Villa at the top of the attack—in the role that many will want to see Lionel Messi—Barcelona will have their best chance at a win here. In fact, you could nearly go as far to say that without Villa at the top of the attack, Barca cannot beat Milan in the Champions League.
Not chasing a two-goal advantage like they are.
As we saw in the first leg, Milan's ability to set up their defense well and not allow Barcelona to penetrate that was fundamental to their success. Sulley Muntari did a brilliant job on Xavi and by cutting off the supply to Messi, forced the Blaugrana into a less-than-inspired attacking performance.
The Italian powerhouse will no doubt be looking to do the same again here—controlling the middle part of the field by cluttering it with defenders. And for Barcelona to triumph over that, their best chance is to get Villa into the action at the top of the attack.
Messi is a brilliant dribbler and finisher, as well all know, but he is at his best when he is tracking back into the attacking midfield side of things. He is not best when he is the furthest man in attack, rather, when someone else is further down the field than him.
Even his most recent goal (coming off the bench as a substitute) against Deportivo showed this to be true. Messi was able to pick up the ball, find the space and then work his mastery through the Spanish defense for the game-clinching goal to add to his incredible tally.
Against Milan, with Villa ahead of him on the field, Messi will be better.
Not like in the first leg, where they played essentially side-by-side—Villa must be consciously ahead of the Argentinian international at all times. If he does this and does this well, the flow-on effect throughout the entire Barcelona team could be profound.
Villa occupying the center backs creates more space for Messi. Messi with more space is deadly enough, but with the ball at his feet and achieving more touches in the No. 10 role than the No. 9, the little wizard could very well have one of his greatest games ever.
Muntari will be forced higher up the field to track Xavi, or, if he doesn't, will give Xavi and Iniesta more space by trying to track back on Messi. The same goes for Milan's central defenders, if they choose to follow Messi further down the pitch, thus opening up space for Villa to pounce.
|Opponent||Lionel Messi's Performance||Barcelona's performance|
|Deportivo||Three goals, one assist||Barcelona win, scored five goals|
|Mallorca||Two goals||Barcelona win, scored four goals|
|Real Zaragoza||Two goals, one assist||Barcelona win, score three goals|
|Osasuna||Four goals||Barcelona win, score five goals|
|Getafe||One goal, one assist||Barcelona win, score six goals|
|Sevilla||One goal (Villa also scored)||Barcelona win, score two goals|
What is perhaps most interesting was that in every single one of these matches, Lionel Messi not only scored, but also finished in the man of the match award.
Such was his dominance with Villa on the field.
In a game where there won't be much room for Barcelona to operate, and goals are desperately needed by the home side, any move (tactically) that will allow La Blaugrana better chances to both can only be good thing. Especially when it involves Messi touching the ball more and finding more space than what he did in the opening leg at the San Siro.
Villa himself is a clinical finisher who is a great target for Barca, also—making him more than just a Messi smokescreen, if you will. Having him in the attack is a good thing for the Spanish giants in his own right, and he'll no doubt prove that with an inspired performance this week.
And that could well be the difference for Barcelona as a result.
Should David Villa start for Barcelona against AC Milan?
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