Pistols at Dawn: Milan – Barça

Impromptu dance off! (Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe)

CL Preview: Milan – Barcelona, 2:45pm ET, Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes

Milan. It’s a city where stuff happens. I’ve previewed it before, so you can read that for all the historic things that have happened there. And yes, I know that’s about Inter, but it’s the same city, so there are parallels. Go ahead, read about Visigoths and whatever other parts I babbled on. It’s back to that city, but this time it’s off to visit the Evil Lair of the East, so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong, I may be politically averse to Berlusconi and the whole Forza Italia movement, but I do love Italy and Italians, though I’ve never been to Milan. Only to the airport, as mentioned in the above link. A lot of Americans are turned off by sport as politics (though obviously not vice versa), all while cheering up a storm whenever their favorite candidate for elected position mentions their local team in a one-off blurb about how great the region is, but I’m kind of into it. Phil Ball went to town on the recent political developments in Spain, so I won’t step on his toes; all I will say is that I get a bit giddy whenever there’s a presidential election anywhere on earth.

As such a fan of the late night voting returns, I have to say I connect the dots sometimes too far. But then again, teams hire former refs to be their liaisons with, well, those guys’ former colleagues who are still working the whistle. There is always something to discuss, after all, even if it’s to point out that Barça only ever wins the Champions League under Socialist prime ministers and Madrid only under Aznar (except, of course, all those other ones). Anyway, the point is that I’m excited to try and put a couple beyond Milan’s keeper, Berlusconi, for the sake of the Italian people’s budgetary concerns. That’s how it works, right?

What is actually true is that I hope the team puts a couple on Milan, wins the group, and gives Tito Vilanova something to smile about. Unless that hurts too much. Barça’s assistant had surgery today on his parotid gland. Not being a doctor, I can’t say what was going on, but a quick trip to Wikipedia showed me that the parotid gland is in your face. Sounds like an important part of the body. As opposed to the useless parts that are everywhere else in your face. Whatever, it was a 5 hour surgery, but apparently he’s doing well. He’ll be out about a month. Anims Tito!

I hope the team takes to the field like a sandstorm to the Sahara. That is, I hope they play very wide and don’t let any goals in within 30 seconds. Let’s last at least a full minute, guys! I didn’t get to see the first leg as I was cavorting around the great wonders of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (which I really liked a lot), so I’m not at all sure what went wrong there, but it seems that Busquets, Mascherano, and Keita weren’t all on the same page. No matter, they don’t have to be tomorrow as they won’t all be playing those same positions thanks to Pique and Puyol being healthy again.

But there are those who are not healthy besides Tito, though his condition is by far the most important and serious. Iniesta and Adriano are out with injuries. The latter’s condition wouldn’t be quite so serious (though obviously still a negative) except Dani Alves is out through yellow card accumulation. That suggests that we’ll start Puyol on the right with Mascherano and Pique in the middle, but it also might mean a return to the 3-4-3 with a midfield of Busquets, Mascherano, Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas. Or some other combination that I can’t even imagine because I’m not the radical departure from common thought that is Pep Guardiola’s mind. Maxwell starting on the left with Abidal and Pique partnering in the middle and Puyol on the right? Jonathan dos Santos being flown in late night to make a surprise appearance as goalie while Valdes is given the striker’s role? Ack, I have no idea.

As for Milan, they have available: Abbiati, Amelia, Abate, Antonini, Bonera, Nesta, Taiwo, Thiago Silva, Zambrotta, Yepes, Ambrosini, Aquilani, Boateng, Emanuelson, Nocerino, Seedorf, Van Bommel, Ibrahimovic, Pato, Robinho.

I’m not at all sure who they’ll start (I’m hardly a Milan expert, having seen approximately 20 minutes of their games combined this season), but I do actually like a large part of their squad. Sure, van Bommel brings back memories of me going “Wait, we signed who? Why? Oh, kick him harder next time!” and then cheering us all the way to the CL title; I also like Boateng a lot; and Robinho, well, he at least did this recently. And Cassano, well, besides being a fun part of this Brian Phillips article, he’s back at Milanello to say hello to everyone and that is fantastic news. Maybe he’s  no saint, but I wish him absolutely the best in his recovery.

Gianfranco over on the AC Milan Offside blog predicts this as their lineup: Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Silva, Taiwo, Nocerino, Ambrosini, Boateng; Robinho, Pato, Ibra. Whatever that particular writer’s hatred for Barça stems from, he’s at least right that Milan is playing on a slightly uneven field if you believe the media hype. That field, though, is in their own stadium and they’ll likely look to get on top early with some intense pressing. Whether they do or not might be a function of Barça’s width, which both Euler and I discussed in different posts. He is, of course, the winner of that particular duel because he had evidence. I just had fancy words like “duh” and “I’m always right so n’yah”.

But, oh yeah, Ibrahimovic. I wrote something about that the other day, when all of his comments were flying around as hot-off-the-press overreactions were still winging their way from one article to another. Tomorrow isn’t about revenge on Ibra, though it would be somewhat personally satisfactory to see him play and not get more than 2 touches and certainly not score. I thought he played well at FCB and I wanted him to stay and succeed. He obviously had other thoughts concerning his time at the club and he’s entitled to those opinions, but he’s  not particularly mature in pointing out the size of Guardiola’s testicles to the general public. I said he was blame-shifting and I still think that’s true, especially given that some of his criticism could very well be spot on.

Maybe it’s incredibly important for him to point out that Pep is a terrible human being and deserves smacked around in public, yet he seems completely unaware of how that looks next to statements about Barcelona’s on-field superiority. As if Pep has nothing to do with that, as if Pep is somehow engaged against “the best team in the world” in some whacked out alternate universe in which Xavi, Messi, and company are all winning despite their coach’s best efforts to line them up improperly. Again, there is probably fair criticism in Ibra’s previous statements about Guardiola, but they’re couched in such a way that it draws maximum attention to how little Ibra seems to have understood what he was getting into in joining Barça or what was expected of him in the end. Switch positions to suit the best player in the world who is scoring infinity plus one goals? You must be joking and perhaps he’s having the last laugh in his mansion surrounded by pictures of him and Pique doing totally straight stuff.

Whatever, we can overhype this thing if want and we might as well. We only get a few chances to do this every year, though doing so basically ensures we meet them, Arsenal, and Madrid in the knockout stage. Pistols at dawn, y’all, Ibra talked smack about the Pepster! It’s on like Donkey Kong on steroids!

Predicted lineup: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Cesc, Villa, Messi, Pedro

So, what will happen? Probably a blood bath in which Ibra “accidentally” punches Pep in the face and then Iniesta somehow comes off the bench/medical table to score the winning goal in the 18th minute of extra time. Really, this one is pretty well up for grabs, except for the possession statistics, which will favor Barcelona 2 to 1.

Official Prediction: 1-2, Barça wins a very entertaining match. Goals by Messi (who else) and Pedro. Unless Fontas starts, in which case the goals are both by him. Boy, I crack me up sometimes.

Wait, is Ibra just some strange mind-controlled minion of El Big Mouth?

Next, I'll have Ibra say Pep is a doodoopants!

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. I hope Barca does win to go top that way most of the team can rest vs Bate (including Messi) so we can meet EE a little less tired.

  2. You should’ve followed Milan’s Mayor elections. Now THAT was entertaining. Ironically, Berlusconi’s candidate there was a Moratti.

  3. Enzo Bronzetti (Italian agent): “Guardiola to Inter can’t happen. First, because Guardiola does not fall any longer into the economic parameters of Inter.Guardiola has only one destination: Chelsea, because Villas Boas is not doing so well as they say. Guardiola will be there in the end with Txiki Beguiristain, his former sporting director at Barca.The duo will be at Chelsea. Otherwise, he goes to the Arab countries.”

    from barcastuff.

    bronzettis words has to be taken seriously.he is right most of the time in this predictions.good thing is that he didnt mention the why and when

  4. Not really think Milan will start with trio CF. Allegri likes to have one backup on bench, so expect Boateng; Robinho/Pato – Ibra.
    Looking fwd to game tonight.

  5. Entertaining as always, Isaiah.

    Very good continuation of Tactics 101 on the last posting, Euler. Hopefully, next up on the syllabus is a post about how our width totally baffled Nesta and Silva.

    My wish list:
    Masche, Pique, Puyi, Abidal
    Xavi, Busi, Cesc
    Alexis, Messi, Villa
    The formation doesn’t matter so much I guess. It’s Barca and the players are gonna go wherever the spirit moves them, as it were.

    Is it wrong to want Mascherano to play as RB??? I really want Puyi central. Either way it’s a “You shall not pass” kind of back line. And I expect the guys to come out with a bit of a ‘tude in defense of their maligned coach. Ibra should not be allowed space to breathe much less play football. Pep will probably surprise me with something outlandish but inspired.

    Let’s win one for Tito. And let’s play pretty, guys.

    0-1 Messi. Tight but entertaining.

    1. I see the same lineup except switch Masch & Puyol. No way does Pep start Masch in an unfamiliar position against an opponent like Milan.

      I expect to see Pedro get some minutes if the game goes well, and also probably Keita and JDS–although I’m pissed that Pep didn’t call up Montoya instead of JDS.

      There seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm for this game in here. I concur. I’m in a lousy mood to begin with, and the news that Barça will be playing in ugly minty-green instead of kick-ass black seems like a bad omen.

      I’m not going to make a score prediction, but I will be very surprised if Messi doesn’t score at least one. I hope Villa does too.

    2. Awww, Blitz. I hope Barca put on a show with a lot of “oooooh purdi” football to cheer you up.

      On the up side, percentage wise I believe we’ve won more often in minty green than black. It’s better than the pink. Still not working to cheer you up? How ’bout Xavi looks good in any color. (there, that should help 🙂 )

    3. Yeah, but I’m at work, so I don’t get to see Xavi in any colour unless I download the match later. #barçafanproblems 🙁

    4. colour, honour, labour, neighbour

      centre, theatre, cheque

      And “z” is pronounced “zed.” Please.

  6. I think its going to be another draw. Except that Milan won’t be as defensive as they were in the first leg. Expect them to take the lead and Barca to equalise through Messi.

  7. With Iniesta out Barca is at risk for becoming indirect. It takes away one of their players capable of beating a defense with the ball. That creates more challenges for Barca to break down the Milan defense.

    Fabregas (who I think will start) will play a critical role. And Cesc is a direct player in many ways, but how he’s direct is very different from how Iniesta can create direct play.

    Fabregas’ skill set is different than Iniesta’s. Dribbling and beating the defense with the ball isn’t the strength of his skill set.

    Fabregas’s runs from deep are a core focus of his direct game. But for those runs from deep to be effective there has to be space for him to run into.

    And for that to happen Barca must space the pitch much more effectively than they did that first match against Milan.

    Milan needs to win this match today. A draw is all Barca needs to take the group. Needing to win and playing at home will likely cause Milan to change tactics. They’ll keep their shape but they likely won’t sit as deep.

    If Milan don’t sit as deep that will give Cesc room to get behind defenders. But there has to be interior space for him to run through for him to make his biggest impact. That requires the rest of the team to orchestrate space.

    That’s what Barca is going to need to do for Cesc’s direct game to substitute for Iniesta’s direct qualities.

  8. The other major question for today is what Pep decides to do at RB.

    The major decision is whether Pep elects to play make up the absence of Alves/Adriano by playing a 3-4-3 or playing a make shift RB in a four man backline.

    Personally, I would not play a 3-4-3 today. Given that it’s an away game and all Barca need to do is get a draw and I’d like to see them play their most sound defensive set up.

    When playing the 3-4-3 Barca has had some difficulty defensively in adjusting to attacks from wide (see Valencia and Sevilla matches). Now Milan plays very narrow so that’s much less of an issue. But on the whole, given the context, I’d prefer them to play their most sound formation with the 4-3-3. In either set up they will dominate possession.

  9. Barça starting XI (v Milan): VV, Puyol, Mascherano, Busquets, Abidal, Keita, Xavi, Thiago, Cesc, Messi and Villa.
    What, no Pique???Will we miss his height?

    Sooooo, I’m thinkin’ 3-1-4-2:
    Puyi/Masche, Puyi/Masche, Abi
    Thiago, Xavi, Keiteeeee, Cesc
    Messi, Villa
    with Thiago and Cesc providing our width.
    Doesn’t matter, though; it’s Barca and the players will move where they need to.
    But what do I know! In Pep we trust!?!

    1. Uuuuy Thiago and Cesc don’t play wide at all. Cesc would not even be effective at what he does playing wide. 4-3-3 (puyol at right back) with Alexis and Villa as the wide men.

    2. Thiago is quite capable of playing wide and has before. Yes, it’s different from what he usually does, but we saw him do it just recently.

  10. What an odd line up Pep has again put out.

    Coming into the match one could logically analyze the options… and still feel confident that Pep would pick none of those “clear” choices!

    I don’t know if the team will line up in a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3 or a mixed hybrid formation.

    All of the central midfielders suggest a 3-4-3 but it’s hard to picture how they will line up in a “diamond” even with Cesc as a false 9.

    I guess we can see keita on left, thiago on right with Busquets at the base and Xavi at the tip. Cesc will play up front as a false 9 and interchange with Xavi?

    Alternatively it could be a 4-3-3 with Busquets in the middle. In many ways it’s easier to fit players into that scheme.

    Either way – I’m concerned about how Barca will develop width and space the pitch, especially on the right. Messi will not stay right and there’s no Alves to man the flank.

    Once again Barca is at risk for trying to play through the middle against a team whose strength is defending narrow.

    1. Maybe it’ll be a 1-8-1.

      If Pep didn’t perplex us often, it would be too easy to be a cule. Nobody would say, “We’re all gonna die”, and everybody’s cereal would be nice and warm. Where’s the fun in that?

  11. Pep is trolling with culés, eh?
    I believe no one in this world could’ve predicted that line up..

    2 defenders, 6 (SIX!) midfielders, and 2 strikers on the field…
    yup, that’s Pep..

    1. Pep will negate Ibra by standing in the technical area scratching his bald head. Ibra will be so infuriated he will ninja-kick a busload of schoolboys in the crowd and get thrown out of the game.

    2. …6 midfielders, 2 strikers…

      On top of Messi not exactly being the prototypical striker — after that one Spain match where Villa was supposed to come off for Llorente, but Xavi wanted to come off instead so Villa stayed on while Llorente went up front — and then watching Villa drop back and set out to distribute passes all over (quite well, too)… I remember thinking, oh my god, Pep’s turned Villa into a midfielder.

      (Behold the depths of Pep’s dastardly plan!)

  12. I wake up at 6.00 AM and nearly spill my coffee..No Pique, no width, Puyol at RB..jeez Pep, thanks for the dodgy morning 😀

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