This Tuesday sees the biggest night in Jordi Roura’s career. The assistant manager, in charge whilst Tito Vilanova battle throat cancer in America, will oversee a huge match at Camp Nou, where the home side will be trying to overturn a 0-2 deficit from three weeks ago against Italian giants AC Milan.
That first leg match in San Siro was an absolute disaster for Barcelona. A woeful performance, coupled with a flawless display from Milan at both ends of the pitch, sees the Italians with one foot in the quarter finals. Since the match, I have been trying to recall a performance of similar ineptitude from Barca, and the only one I could think of was also against Milan, the 4-0 humiliation in the 1994 European Cup Final.
Of course, form has been patchy for Barcelona since the first leg. Back to back Clasico defeats, and narrow league wins against Sevilla and bottom side Deportivo La Coruna have hardly instilled confidence in the team to score the three goals needed to progress without extra time (assuming they don’t concede of course). And that’s a major factor; I can’t see Milan not scoring, and of course any away goals for the Italians mean that Barca’s job becomes that much more difficult. Add to that the fact that Barca haven’t scored three or more in a match for more than a month, and the size of the task becomes all the more apparent. However, they did keep their first clean sheet in fourteen games which will be encouraging.
Both sides go into the game off the back of two goal victories in the league over the weekend. Milan won 2-0 in Genoa on Friday night, with Pazzini and the ineligible Balotelli getting the goals. Barca, meanwhile, dominated their home match with Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday night, but could only register a 2-0 win themselves. The fact that Mario Balotelli will not feature could be a decisive factor, as the striker has been in phenomenal form since joining the Rossoneri.
Roura has been given a huge boost ahead of Tuesday’s match with the news that Xavi Hernandez has returned to training slightly ahead of schedule from a thigh strain. The midfielder was thought to be out of the return leg, but he took part in a full session on Friday, and will most likely start on Tuesday after not being selected for the Depor match. Roura rested several first team players, with seven changes from the defeat at Real Madrid. Here’s my predicted lineup:
Valdes, Alves, Alba, Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Villa
Victor Valdes, serving a four match ban for his sending off for verbally abusing the referee at the end of last week’s Clasico, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi were all not picked for the Deportivo game, although the services of Messi, Iniesta and Busquets were required to see out the match, and Messi went on to break another La Liga record by scoring in his seventeenth consecutive match.
If you’re a Barcelona fan, this is not likely to be an enjoyable match. It will be nervy and tense from the first whistle, and an early goal is vital to settle the players and the crowd down. However, with Milan defending so well in the first leg, it is difficult to see Barca having much joy. Mind you, the Camp Nou pitch is much bigger than the one in San Siro, and is tailored to suit Barca’s quick passing and movement. And, of course, in Lionel Messi, they have the one player on the planet who can score four goals on his own when needed. Milan, though are not going to arrive in Catalunya with an awful lot of attacking intent, and Messi will no doubt find himself surrounded at every turn.
According to stats from the first leg, Barcelona only had eleven touches of the ball inside the Milan penalty area, something that they will need to address on Tuesday night. I titled this preview Mission Impossible, and on paper it is. While it’s true that if you needed a team to beat an opponent by three clear goals, that team would be this Barcelona team, the defensive prowess of Milan cannot be ignored. Xavi said in an interview recently that while this side had won everything, they’ve never had that definitive comeback result, and that this could be it. Let’s hope so.
This is a real head v heart prediction for me. On the one hand I want to say that Barca will win 3-0 or 4-1 because they are certainly capable of it. On the other hand though, I can’t ignore how huge the task in hand is. I think Barca will win on the night, but it’s nailing down that scoreline that’s the problem. Therefore, the only prediction I will make is that Barca will win, but not by enough, and will be eliminated from the competition before the semi final for the first time since 2007.