AC Milan vs. FC Barcelona: 5 Key Duels to Watch Out For
With both AC Milan and FC Barcelona having qualified from Group H, tomorrow's game at the San Siro is more about pride than anything else. However, pride is something that both teams have generous dollops of, and they will both be fielding their strongest lineups possible in order to take all three points.
In matches like these, it is very often the case that the game's flow is decided by individuals. It was seen the last time these two sides met at the Camp Nou. Alexandre Pato opened the scoring with a burst of individual skill that left quite a few Barcelona defenders stranded. Villa brought Barcelona into the lead with a strong free kick, while Thiago Silva rose above the pack to score the equalizer in the final minute.
Tomorrow, there are set to be some very interesting individual matchups between players of both teams. These duels could, in theory, decide which team walks away with the points and the glory.
Gerard Pique vs. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
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With Carles Puyol likely to be pushed out wide right for tomorrow's game, the center back pairing will most likely be Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique. Considering the strength and skill of Milan's big frontman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is not inconceivable that Pique will get the unenviable job of marking him.
Pique has the skill set required to negate Ibrahimovic. He has the height required to beat Ibrahimovic in the air, he can outrun him with his superior pace, he has the strength to out-muscle Ibrahimovic and he has the ability to read the game and ensure that Ibrahimovic does not get too many chances to outsmart him.
On the other hand, Ibrahimovic will be going into this game with a lot to prove against his former employers. He will be playing with a motivation that will make Pique's job as hard as it possibly could be.
Definitely a mouthwatering one-on-one clash to watch out for throughout the course of the match.
Xavi vs. Alberto Aquilani
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The two midfield creators of both teams come together in a battle that will most definitely decide the course of the game.
Xavi's biggest strength is his ability to control the pace and flow of the entire game when he holds possession of the ball. In addition to this, he also ends up making some truly stunning passes which split the best defenses into two.
With him in midfield, it is hard to imagine Aquilani getting too many touches on the ball. However, Aquilani's strength is his ability to spot and make a difficult pass quickly. He will not need too many chances to release either of Milan's gifted frontmen with a defense-splitting through ball.
We will probably see Aquilani play a deeper role tomorrow, as the hole behind the strikers will probably be occupied by Kevin-Prince Boateng or Robinho. In this role, he will have the responsibility of supporting the defense, as well as feeding the attack.
One thing is clear—the battle between these two will decide which team dominates the match.
Lionel Messi vs. Thiago Silva
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As always, Lionel Messi is on a streak of red-hot form going into this match. In his way, however, is the very strong center back pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva. Tomorrow, we will most likely see Silva being given the main role of tracking Messi.
Silva's strength and speed, along with his superb technique, will be his chief weapons to track Messi in tomorrow's game. The gifted Brazilian is faced with a very difficult task, but there is little doubt that if anyone can slow Messi down tomorrow, it's him.
Messi has shown a slight semblance of weakness when playing against physically strong, no-nonsense defenders (remember Pepe?). This could be the very motivation and inspiration that Silva needs when he takes the field tomorrow.
Even with this ray of hope, however, the task that awaits Silva at the San Siro is an almost impossible one.
Javier Mascherano vs. Alexandre Pato
The other duel in Barcelona's defense and Milan's attack will be a fascinating encounter between two quick, speedy and agile players. Alexandre Pato will face off against Javier Mascherano in what could possibly be a game-changing set of encounters.
In the first clash at the Camp Nou, Pato left a horde of Barcelona players flat-footed to score in the first minute. This goal is also the only one he has scored so far this season. Though he has missed a lot of playing time through injury through this season, the odds of him starting tomorrow's game have been given a great boost by an impressive showing from the bench against Fiorentina during the weekend.
Mascherano will be forming the second half of Barcelona's center back pairing, and he will have the main job of tracking and stopping the skillful, speedy Brazilian. Yet another chance for him to show off his defensive abilities, no doubt.
There will be very little margin for error for both players, and their duel will, in all probability have a direct bearing on the final score-line of the game.
David Villa vs. Ignazio Abate
While Villa has not been having the best time at Barcelona in recent weeks, he did manage to score against Zaragoza over the weekend. In addition, Pedro is probably not going to start, as he has just recently recovered from a major injury, and will not be match-fit for such a huge clash.
Villa will reprise his role on the left wing, and Abate will get the extremely difficult task of keeping him in check. Villa's movement and ability to cut inside will stretch Abate's defensive ability to its maximum, keeping him engaged for the entire 90 minutes.
Interestingly enough, Villa will also be Barcelona's first line of defense against Abate's marauding runs down the right wing. If he loses the ball, he will have to scramble to make up ground and attempt to stop Abate before he manages to get into dangerous positions within the Barcelona half.
This duel will be a classic case of tug-of-war, with both players keeping each other busy for the course of the game.