Barcelona V AC Milan preview
All football eyes will be on the Nou Camp tonight as two of the biggest names in club football clash head to head in a Champions League second leg tie for the right to meet Arsenal in the final on 17 June. The first leg in the San Siro was a cagey match with Barcelona gaining a one-nil victory courtesy of a Guily textbook volleyed finish from an exquisite Ronaldinho pass.
Tonight, the initiative will be on AC Milan to cancel out Barcelona's advantage. AC Milan do not engage in much team rotation and I fear that their players - many of them in their late twenties/early thirties - will be at a physical disadvantage compared to Barcelona's. This is especially because Barcelona's game last weekend at Sevilla was called off meaning their squad have had eight days recuperation entering into tonight's match.
Importantly for Milan, their livewire striker Filipo Inzaghi is available after missing last week's first leg tie. This player is significant because not only is an excellent penalty-box predator who is not scared to score in the big games, but his presence - that demands the preoccupation of opposition defenders - leaves the amazing Shevchenko more room to find gaps that he can exploit with ultimate effect. Shev is the top scorer in Champs Leaguer history- and he should relish the opportunity of taking on the Barca defence in the wide expanse of the Nou Camp. When you add the fearless, surging Kaka to AC Milan's goal threat, I would say that it'll be unwise for Barcelona to start the game with a defensive mentality.
Messi is still out injured for Barcelona, and there is a fitness doubt over Henrik Larsson. This means Guily should feature on the right of Barcelona's broad attacking line-up with Eto'o down the centre and Ronaldinho on the wide left. Crucially, Deco will be back in midfield tonight to quicken up the rhythm of their attacking passing game. Although Barca have not been hitting the same heights as in early-to-mid-season, I feel that with the luxury of a weekend off plus an expectant home crowd, they can breach the AC Milan defence a couple of times if they run hard and intelligently at them. This is because my general sense of Italian clubs are that they are unaccustomed and struggle against opponents that play high tempo, pacy, attacking football.
I highlight Liverpool last season in the final (three goals conceded in ten minutes), PSV in last season's semi-final second leg (three goals conceded), and Deportivo two seasons ago in an away quarter-final second leg (astonishingly four goals conceded) as examples that a high, attacking tempo can break Milan.
Barcelona's game-plan should be to try to hurt AC Milan's resolve in the first half hour with a goal that would mean that Milan have to score three. I expect they will score in this time playing really high tempo attacking football, and then shift gears to play a professional, containing game that AC Milan will struggle to penetrate.
Score prediction: Barcelona 2-1 AC Milan