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?