Milan looks to pull off a surprise
Barcelona has to set aside memories of its only Champions League failure under coach Pep Guardiola when AC Milan visits on Tuesday, knowing a victory is needed to avoid another exit to an Italian club.
A scoreless draw in the first leg of their quarterfinal has set the scene for a must-win match for Barcelona ( live on FOX Soccer, 2:30 p.m. ET), which has twice won the competition since Guardiola took charge three seasons ago. The only blight on that record was exiting to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan two years ago in the semifinals.
Barcelona is hoping the a home field at Camp Nou will better cater to their explosive attack after the club officially protested to UEFA over the San Siro turf, on which several players lost their footing and kicked up clumps of grass.
”It’s a final in which only a victory matters,” Barcelona captain Carles Puyol said on Monday. ”It’s always important not to concede (goals) and, tomorrow, even more so.”
Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to Camp Nou for the first time since leaving Barcelona in 2010, after missing the teams’ 2-2 draw there in the group stage with an injury. Milan’s attack could be boosted by the return of Alexandre Pato, who scored in the group-stage match in September.
”He returned on Sunday after being sidelined one month, had his first training session and in Barcelona he’ll have his second one. We’ll evaluate him after that,” Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said on Monday. ”I’ve brought five strikers to Barcelona and one will have to watch from the stands.”
Pato struck in the opening minutes of that game, and the Rossoneri then scored a stoppage-time equalizer that serves as a reminder of the Italian champions’ abilities.
”Ibra, Pato and Robinho are players who can change a game, so we have to be very concentrated,” said Puyol, who along with Cesc Fabregas sat out Saturday’s 2-0 league win over Athletic Bilbao with Milan in mind. ”There’s no margin for error.”
Barcelona fullback Adriano and midfielder Ibrahim Afellay are available, while David Villa and Eric Abdial remain sidelined. Playmaking midfielder Xavi Hernandez seems to be the biggest question mark after missing Sunday’s training session, reportedly because of a nagging calf problem.
Milan has bigger injury worries with Thiago Silva and Mark van Bommel out injured, while goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and midfielder Antonio Nocerino should be fit despite being seen limping after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Catania.
”We have to play like we did at the San Siro and, above all, do all we can to keep Barca from scoring. That will give us a chance of advancing,” Allegri said. ”It will be important knowing when to attack and when to defend.
”Barcelona is still the best team in the world but inside the match there will be two or three moments we’ll have to understand and (take advantage) of.”
Lionel Messi can match Thierry Henry’s Champions League total of 50 goals – third best behind Raul Gonzalez and Ruud van Nistelrooy – by scoring for the 20th time in 11 games Tuesday.
Barcelona is unbeaten in 11 matches – with 10 victories – and hasn’t lost at the Camp Nou for 51 games, dating back to September 2010. It hasn’t lost to Milan in nearly eight years and is trying to reach the Champions League semifinals for the fifth successive year, which would equal the record set by Real Madrid between 1956-60.