CL Preview: Inter Milan – Barça, Tuesday 2:45pm, FSE/Fox Affiliate (HD)
Last time we traveled to Milan to face Inter, I went on a wonderful rampage through history. This time around, of course, the city is still the same, but the stakes are ridiculously higher than they were in the group stage. Not only are we at the tail end of the domestic season, we’re in the semifinals of the Champions League and looking to propel ourselves into the final for what could be a history-making second consecutive Champions League title and a place alongside the all-time great teams–even according to the pundits!
All that stands in our way is a piddling little ol’ man named Jose Mourinho and the athletes he coaches/domineers with disdain. That’s all. Nothing much, right? They’re not even the top team in Italy! Of course, when you can do this, you can do a lot of damage, even with your defenders. And yes, we handily defeated this team 2-0 at the Camp Nou in our last meeting, but this is a different team, this is a team that has made improvements, that is playing better, that has eliminated Chelsea and CSKA Moscow in the CL, and is just 1 point behind AS Roma in Serie A. No, they’re not as good as we are, but we just had a goalless drew with Espanyol and anything can happen. Last time we tactically destroyed them by deploying Iniesta in the midfield and making them all confused. When we went to Milan the first time, though, we played out a goalless draw with Inter even though we had Ibra and Messi in the starting lineup. The second time around, if you don’t remember, we were missing both of them, but still got an ample victory.
But still, it’s a different time of the year and while fatigue is certainly catching up with us, it was doing the same last year when we were able to get through to the final as the supposed underdog (going to Stamford Bridge in the second leg) and then destroy Man United completely. So there is no such thing as fatigue, no fatigue-related excuses, and no “Oh man, we had to ride in a bus for like twelve hours” nonsense either. If the Knicks can fly to Los Angeles, have a game, and then fly back and have another game the next day, what’s with Barça’s road-tripping being such a big deal? It’s not like they’re crammed into the back of an El Camino or something. They’re in a luxurious bus, for crying out loud. And no doubt they have an endless loop of Viva la Vida to keep them entertained. And Dani Alves has his Paulo Coelho books. And Messi has–shit, can his Lego collection fit on the bus?
I have a friend who is trapped in London at the moment by these Icelandic ash clouds that seem to be disrupting everything in Europe, so it’s not like I’m not taking it seriously, but there is some amount of good-natured guffawing going on on this side of the keyboard at how absurdly the media seems to be taking this little setback for Barça. Oh no, they’ll die on the bus because it’s such a loooong trip. Wait, it’s just a little longer than from my parents’ house in New York to where I went to college, a distance I used to drive regularly and which was doable twice in one day? Oh. Well nevermind then. (If you clicked the previous link, the building is Peters Hall, which is where I started to learn Spanish–in fact, the nearest first-floor window is where my classroom was)
So it’s up to our squad to believe they can win this and put the tie to bed, much like what we did in the first 70 minutes against Arsenal except this time don’t let in two stupid goals. I feel comfortable with starting Ibra and I think he’ll be able to make a difference against the high pressure I’m expecting from Inter, just as he was able to peg in two goals against Arsenal when they over-committed their defense to the offsides trap. Jonathan Wilson, I believe, thinks they’re fools for having done just that. Whether Mourinho will learn from that lesson and apply strictly what Espanyol did to us or not is a question that won’t be answered until kickoff, but I’m sure that Mou has watched all those matches diligently to try to find some insight in not only how to stop us, but how to keep us from finding any sort of a rhythm.
Because this is a two-legged affair, Mourinho may want to go for the scoreless draw at home and try to eek out a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou and thus go through on away goals. This is not a terrible tactic if you can keep us off the scoreboard, but if we can actually score at the San Siro, which is by no means a given, but neither is the opposite, the tables turn rather quickly against any negative tactics. With the return leg in our stadium, we could use an away goal to open up their defense much like we did Stuttgart’s in the second leg. Of course, Inter is much better than Stuttgart and it may turn out more like the Arsenal match where they went up a goal early thanks to defensive mistakes on our part, but I trust our squad and I trust Pep to work their damned asses off to ensure that we make the final at the Bernabeu.
The squad that went to Milan (and has now arrived, in case you missed that info) includes everyone except Iniesta and Chygrynskiy and also includes Andreu Fontas from Barça Atlètic. Abidal has been included as well, but he’s still without the medical all-clear, so I expect Maxwell to start at left back given Ibra’s return and the lack of effectiveness of the formation that put Maxwell up front. Alves isn’t suspended for this match because his red is in the league, so he can play, and I expect him to start at RB rather than up front.
Their squad list is: Julio Cesar (GK), Orlandoni (GK), Belec (GK), Cordoba, Zanetti, Lucio, Maicon, Materazzi, Samuel, Chivu, Stankovic, Thiago Motta, Sneijder, Muntari, Cambiasso, Eto’o, Diego Milito, Pandev, Balotelli
I don’t know how they’ll line up against us tomorrow, but I think that Sneijder will start and while I’ve never been particularly worried about him, he is playing at a high level right now (perhaps his highest ever level) and that could be worrisome if he and Cambiasso can contrive to deal with our midfielders. We don’t have Iniesta, of course, and that could be a serious blow to our ability to pass the ball around their pressure. Will we field Busi-Yaya-Xavi to try and get some extra possession or will we go with Keita for either Busi or Yaya to get some steel and serious lung capacity? Given that Keita didn’t start against Espanyol, I think he’ll start against Inter, but it’s hard to argue against either lineup.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Keita, Pedro!, Ibra, Messi.
I think that’s a pretty good lineup, though I do want to take a moment and talk about that DM position. 1) Busi, man the hell up. Your diving nonsense is absurd. It cost us scoring opportunities against Espanyol and made us look like a bunch of babies out there. You’re a man now, so fuggin’ act like one and stop your yellow card trolling. At this point, you deserve every boot that’s put into your precious little ankles. Earn your whining, bub and then don’t do it anyway cause it’s annoying and it makes you a disappointment after your improvements last year. 2) Yaya is a far better DM than Busi. I don’t care what nonsense you want to lay out to say that Busi is better, because you’re wrong. And the reason you’re wrong is comment 1 as well as Yaya’s physical domination of matches. You never see Busi take over a match. You never see him be a colossus in the back; sure, he’s talented and he’s the future of the position for our club, but right now he needs to learn how to play the way Yaya does and because we have Yaya, we should play Yaya. Not Busi. 3) Against Inter, we’ll need both possession and steel and while Busi can provide the first, Yaya can provide both. So I want to see Yaya-Keita-Xavi, but I’m sure we’ll see Busi-Keita-Xavi because, well, that’s how Guardiola wants it. It merely saddens me, that’s all. Don’t cry for me, BFB.
Who they bring onto the field will certainly be a big factor in whether or not we win this, but I think we’ll see something along the lines of a 4-4-1-1 with Eto’o and Milito shifting around up front as the two strikers. They’ll look to hit us on the break and we’ll have to be ready for their speed down the wings through Maicon. And that’s why we’ll need to have serious control over the ball: Pedro can’t keep Maicon occupied and Henry is obviously out to lunch, so we’ve got no true left wing threat. If Ibra can dominate the center and Messi can cause havoc on the right and through the middle, Pedro will have a chance to step in and score as he did the last time, but, again, that’s not going to happen unless we dominate the midfield too. But I do have faith in our boys in blaugrana and I do think that we’ll come out of this ahead, at least in the time-honored tradition of first leg matches under Guardiola.
Official prediction: 1-1. I think we’ll get one through Ibra and bring back that precious away goal. And then we’ll destroy Xerez over the weekend and put ourselves into the final at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, April 28. Come on boys, we can do this!
Time: 8:45pm Local/Milan time, 2:45pm EST/New York time, check your local time here.
TV: In the US, this game will be shown live on the local Fox affiliate (here it’s MSG+) in HD as well as on Fox Sports en Español.
Weather: ~54F (~12C), 20% chance of rain. Should be a nice night for a game.
Ref: The ref for this match is the Portuguese Bartolo Benquerenca, who has reffed in quite a few Champions League matches (11 to date) and has been pre-selected as a World Cup ref for this year. He appears to be a card-happy guy, so expect quite a few of those to be shown.
And so, yes, let’s do this. Visca el Barça!