Two historic rivals will clash again in the Champions League, but AC Milan might struggle to keep this feud against Barcelona two-sided.
This will mark the seventh time in three years these clubs meet in the Champions League. Barcelona currently holds a two-point lead over Milan in Group H through two matches, but that edge can quickly disappear with an upset.
A victory for Tata Martino's squad, however, widens the distance between Barcelona and everyone else to decisively increase Barca's chances of advancing to the next stage.
While Barcelona has yet to drop a match in nine bouts, Milan has secured just three Serie A victories in eight tries. The injury bug won't help matters either going into Tuesday's critical showdown.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 2:45 p.m. EDT (7:45 p.m. BST)
Where: San Siro Stadium, Milan, Italy
TV: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: UEFA.com
Top Storyline: Are the Stars Healthy?
The deck is stacked against AC Milan, who must play short-handed against a squad in tip-top shape.
According to a Reuters report (via Independent Online), Christian Abbiati, Daniele Bonera, Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini and Mario Balotelli are all banged up.
Barcelona, on the other hand, has received more encouraging news on the injury front. According to ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan, Lionel Messi looks ready to go after sustaining a thigh injury in Saturday's draw against Osasuna:
Good news in a big week for Barcelona - Lionel Messi should be fit to start at Milan as they prepare for the Clasico: http://t.co/dlA5WhDnER— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 21, 2013
One of the sport's brightest stars, Messi has already netted eight goals and three assists through eight La Liga contests this year. His presence keeps Barcelona's offensive advantage intact.
While Martino must be ecstatic to see his premier talent healthy, he's not exactly rooting for Milan to receive the same fortune. Corrigan's report does not exactly describe the manager hoping for his opponent to show up at full strength:
I could give you two answers—one from our point of view and one from the perspective of the fans. When stars do not play it is bad for the fans, but good for the opposition players.
As of now, the news is bad for Martino and good for the fans. On Monday afternoon, Corrigan tweeted that Balotelli is part of the 20-man roster that will travel to San Siro:
Mario Balotelli included in Milan 20 man squad for Barca tomorrow - http://t.co/J2MjUTdRwy— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) October 21, 2013
The 23-year-old is tied for the team lead in Serie A goals scores despite only playing four matches. If he's not fit and fully functional, Milan will struggle mightily to match Barcelona's offensive firepower.
Even with Balotelli's rapid recovery, AC Milan must fight too much of an uphill battle to knock down Barcelona from its seat atop Group H.
Who will win?
Barcelona has dominated as of recently, with its latest scoreless draw serving as its only hiccup. But the scores usually comes in bunches for the club, which has notched 20 goals through its last six La Liga matches and put up four scores in its last Champions League bout against Ajax.
While Milan is limping into this affair, Barcelona can confidently strut into San Siro knowing it is the team to beat in Group H. Not losing in nine contests while bearing a plus-22 goal differential instills that type of self-efficacy into a squad.
Assuming the buzz is accurate about Messi feeling good, expect him to get on a scoreboard in a convincing victory for Barcelona.
Final Score Prediction: Barcelona 3, AC Milan 1