In one of the biggest upsets in this season’s Champions League, AC Milan took down Barcelona, one of the tournament favorites, 2-0 at the San Siro in the first leg of the round of 16. On Tuesday, Barcelona will have a chance at redemption as they host the Rossoneri to Camp Nou needing a 3-0 victory or better to move on to the final 8.
Barcelona has struggled recently for their standard, first losing to AC Milan and then to Real Madrid both in the Copa del Rey and in the league. Their most recent match was a pretty unimpressive 2-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna with many of the stars including Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, and Jordi Alba seeing limited action in preparation for Tuesday’s Champions League showdown. While their talent and skill is undeniable, it seems as if Barcelona has lost just a little bit of that edge in the past few weeks and have shown to be beatable. With zero away goals in hand, Tuesday’s match will be a serious challenge against an opponent who has shown to defend and counter attack well over 90 minutes. Most times Barcelona would be expected to go through to the final 8, but down 0-2 and in their recent form, the Catalan side has an uphill battle. Having essentially sewn up the La Liga title and having been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, Tuesday’s match becomes the biggest match of the season and could be a big tell for the future of the club over the next several years. While the team has signed Messi to a long-term extension, many of the older staple players like Xavi and Puyol aren’t getting any younger and the injury bug is starting to bite. If Tuesday doesn’t go well, Barcelona’s season is essentially over.
For the visiting Rossoneri, the situation is entirely different. AC Milan were not expected to advance passed Barcelona so a birth in the final 8 would be a rather amazing feat against one of the favorites. With nothing to lose and a two-goal advantage on aggregate, Milan will probably pack it in and defend. Last season, Chelsea proved that it could be done after advancing passed Barca in the semi-finals, but The Blues also scored twice at Camp Nou. If AC Milan can learn anything from last year it is that sometimes the best defense is a good counter attack. Fortunately, counter attacking is what the Rossoneri base their play around especially against top teams like Barcelona. Tuesday’s trip to Spain is a chance for Milan to make a good season a great one and shock the world by advancing to the next round.
Let’s take a look at some of the key players for Tuesday’s big match:
Of course the four-time Balon d’Or winner will be a key player in such a big match with so much at stake. Messi was a non-factor in the first leg, as two or three defenders would converge on him whenever he touched the ball. If Barcelona is to come back and score enough goals to progress, Messi needs to be involved throughout the match. Barcelona needs to get him the ball, as they usually do, whenever possible and put him into good positions to score. If they do that as a team, as they usually do, then they should win and win big. However, if AC Milan can contain the best player in the world as well as they did in Milan, Barca will have trouble advancing. It is no secret that Messi has the individual ability to beat players and create his own scoring chances, but if he is constantly tripled teamed, fouled, and not allowed to touch the ball as much as he is used to, Barca will have problems. Players like Xavi, Sergio Busquets, and Cesc Fabregas are fantastic players but are more of set-up type players who provide better chances for players like Messi. The little Argentinean will have a lot to say in the outcome of the match and is not just A player to watch, he is THE player to watch.
KPB as he is known, is quite simply the heart and soul of AC Milan. His fire and passion is unmatched and his skill isn’t bad either. Boateng scored the winning goal in the first leg at the San Siro, and really could do no wrong. He plays at a high pace with high energy and showed that he has the ability to disrupt the tiki-taka passing of Barcelona’s midfield. KPB is a box-to-box midfielder with both defensive and offensive skills that make him a nightmare for opposing midfielders. He tackles hard, wins head balls, and puts his body on the line for his team; all of which gave Barcelona fits in the first leg. On Tuesday, Boateng will be a key factor in whether or not AC Milan advance and will have to be the link from the defense to counter attack to catch Barcelona by surprise. The Barca midfield including Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas learned how physical KPB can be in the first leg and will have to change something in order to neutralize him in and keep the flow of passing that they are used to. Kevin-Prince Boateng is going to be key for the Rossoneri on Tuesday and will be Milan’s player to watch.
The captain and leader of Barcelona had a tough time in the first leg, but will need to be on his game on Tuesday. Barcelona will probably be in control of possession for most of the match and it will most likely take place in AC Milan’s half. Puyol will be the last line of defense during AC Milan’s counter attacks and if they strike quickly enough, he may be the only line in some situations. Besides being a crucial part of the defense, Puyol will also be a key part of attack on corner kicks, free kicks, and in keeping possession of the ball. Interestingly enough, in matches where one team dominates possession, central defenders are often the reason why. The center midfielders get most of the credit, but as their outlets and providers, central defenders are just as important. Puyol is the emotional leader of a team full of talent and while he may not have the most skill, his heart is far above the rest. If Barcelona is to advance, watch for Carlos Puyol to have a huge impact come Tuesday.
Tuesday’s clash will have the eyes of the football world all over it. AC Milan has a chance to shock the world and bust the Champions League wide open if they are able to hold onto their 2-0 lead. While it is improbable that they will play as well as they did at home in the first leg, or that Barcelona will play as badly as they did in the first leg, miracles do happen. If Barcelona scores early, it could be a long day for the visiting Rossoneri, but if Milan can keep them out for at least the first half, they have a chance. Lionel Messi, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Carlos Puyol are the key players to watch for Tuesday’s matchup, but as football has shown throughout its history, it is often the least expected player that can have the biggest impact.
While Barcelona has run away with the Spanish league title, the Champions League is on another level and with Spanish rivals Real Madrid already through to the final 8, the Catalans will be hungry to show that their recent form is merely a bump in the road as they host AC Milan at Camp Nou, down 0-2, and with the world watching.