Off To That One City Again: Milan – Barcelona

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I’ve previously written about The Moral City of Italy (is that really what it’s called?) as a stand-in for rampaging Visigoths. I’ve also previously written about the city while attempting to avoid discussions of medieval warfare. Blitzen has gotten in on that act as well. I feel like I can’t possibly write more about Milan. And yet, here we are, on the even of another Champions League encounter with a team from that very city. The only thing left to talk about is the thing no one wants to talk about. No, not Bojan; politics.

Whatever your political beliefs, it would be foolish to forget that when Sport or Marca discuss Silvio Berlusconi and su” (“his”) Milan, they’re putting extraneous quotation marks around words. It’s actually his Milan. He owns them. And his political fortunes rise and fall with them. Forza Italia was a play on Forza Milan. What this match means is a potential blockbuster success for Berlusconi as he seeks a return to power. It is not necessarily an important political victory for Sandro Rosell, but a victory wouldn’t hurt his waning popularity among socis. It would obviously be foolish to pit these two sides against each other as some sort of Evil Empire East versus the Forces of Good, but there’s little doubt that political victories have been earned with less.

The individual players are probably not worried about whether particular political actors will win election or re-election due to their on-field achievements, but if football were played in a vacuum, the players would suffocate there wouldn’t be much point to watching, would there? There certainly would be a lot less to write about, anyway. As it is, there is so much going on behind-the-scenes that few Champions League matches will have the wider ramifications that this one will. Yes, it’s true that the “wider ramifications” of Barcelona being eliminated by AC Milan would by socis and not the general population, but I can easily envision a Rosell-vs-Laporta fight to the death regarding the future of this club, the Catalan state, and questions of regional autonomy revolving around the idea that “Well, I never got eliminated in the Round of 16, you big lummox.” (The counter argument is that, well, of course Barcelona lost in the Round of 16 under Laporta: 2006–07 and 2004–05; just not with this group of players, so n’yah!)

What is on paper a whitewash (Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta vs Boateng, Robinho, and Philip Mexes…and Bojan) was made significantly closer with the addition of the exquisitely talented and insatiably insane Mario Balotelli. A scintillating matchup between the powerful intensity of one of the world’s strikers and…oh, he’s cup-tied? Nevermind. We’re back to the drawing board here at the Barcelona Football Blog offices. The truth, though, is that Milan have been playing fairly well recently, having won 4 of 5 in Serie A. They haven’t lost since December 22, a run of 7 matches. Granted, their 4 most recent goals were scored by Balotelli (there was an own goal mixed in there), but that doesn’t mean they are unable to score without him. The bigger key is that 2 of those 4 were penalties. Without Balotelli, the team loses a major striking option, but they do have several others. Pato, the man who scored so quickly against Barcelona last season in the group stage, is not one of them, having moved to Corinthians. Thiago Silva, the other goal scorer in that match shipped off to PSG before the season began. Their third goalscorer against Barcelona was Zlatan Ibarhimovic. Only Boateng, who netted Milan’s 2nd with a gorgeous goal in a 2-3 Barcelona victory at the San Siro in November 2011, remains on the squad from last year’s group stage goal scorers. (Antonio Nocerino, Milan’s only goal scorer when the two teams met in the quarter finals in March and April 2012, is also still with the team)

While Milan is considerably different than it was last year, it is still in 3rd place in Italy. They obviously finished 2nd in their Champions League group, but they did fend off a fairly strong group, led by winners Malaga and followed by 1 point by Zenit St. Petersburg and 3 points by Anderlecht. Milan proved their stuff with a victory at Zenit; their first goalscorer from that match, Urby Emanuelson, is no longer with the club, having moved to Fulham on loan, but the name to remember for this whole thing, Stephan El Shawaary also made the scoresheet that night.

It’s Shawaary that provides both the talent and the hope for Milan: he is their up-and-coming striker who often plays on the wing. He’s come into his own this year, having scored some 15 goals in 22 matches, good for 2nd best in the league. He has a tremendous right foot and excellent tight control. And he’s fast. He left a couple of Barcelona defenders in his wake last year and could very easily do it again if given the opportunity. With Boateng in the middle, Milan has a rather impressive dual attack they’re able to mount. It will be up to Barcelona to cut off the supply lines. The usual prescription of suffocation by lack of possession might just do the trick, but their counters could very well be lethal.

Who else does Milan have? Hmm. Can’t think of anyone.

When I get off this bench, you’ll be sorry…

Official Prediction: 1-1. Everything to play for at the Camp Nou, but with a slight advantage to Barcelona given the away goal. I think it will be a tight, cagey affair as Milan pack it in and hope to catch FCB on the break. And they’ll do it once. The real winner, both at club level and at political level, will be determined in the second leg.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.

240 comments

  1. Lets have a bet of who will fall down first. Alexis or Bojan, kkk. I say Bojan 😉

    On another note, these little kids in Granada are persistent little buggers. Almost broke Messi in half on one of their races to get a souvenir from the players. Messi didnèt know what hit him http://youtu.be/vvVX1Lo7zwA

    1. That is if Bojan even gets to play 🙂

      I actually hope he plays though cause the players know him very well unlike the new players like El Shwarawy (not new but can’t recall him from last season), and Niang.

      On that video. That loud mouthed kid probably said something nasty to Messi. Just a few weeks ago Messi was all cool when an adult pitch invader approached him.

      And in another video that has been circulating on the net, apparently that kid invaded the pitch when Madrid came to town too. That little kid must’ve been a Madrid fan. I actually saw a number of Madrid fans in the Granada stadium.

  2. Really looking forward to the match since I’m going to be in the San Siro tonight.

    Expect Milan to be a tough opponent especially in their stadium, though I think Barça will be able to get an advantage for the second leg by at least not losing tonight.

    Let’s hope for an exciting kick, guys!

    1. I would keep Alexis. He’s far too versatile for us. And he’s the water carrier type of player like Busi.

      Neymar/Alexis/Deulofeu – Messi – Pedro/Alexis/Tello/Cuenca

      Pretty talented forwards we have.
      I do hope both Cuenca and Tello will stay next season.
      I can’t wait to see Cuenca in action for us again.

    2. I would also keep him. He’s been far to important to our success this season. I hope Cules don’t forget that we were unbeaten in our first 17 matches this season. He played a huge role in that streak. His pressing and energy, along with intelligent runs into space wouldn’t be easily replaced.

  3. 1-1? You’re being far too diplomatic.

    I’d be dissapointing if we dont roll them at least 3-1 and put this one to bed quite early.

    Anything less than a convincing win here will be a surpirse and a dissapointment to me. I just do NOT rate Milan at all.

  4. Imagine if we see the lineup of Nov ’10 soon sometime this season, I’d go crazy!
    Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pedro, Messi, Villa

    1. Yup – he’s not in Milan. But Gogah did say sometime this season ‘cos Abi’s not back yet either. 😉

  5. Hmmm …. a whiny Messi jibe and some Sanchez action. Now let’s return to matters at hand.

    Blau-Grenade offered up a really good Milan breakdown in the previous thread that is worth having a gander at. That is a dangerous side because their strengths (speed, movement, killer counter) play to our weaknesses. That defense doesn’t give up much either, typically of an Italian side. El Hairrawy worries me. He’s been shaded by Balotelli of late, but that dude is danger, especially off the break.

    I would love to see a Fabregas/Sanchez/Messi front line. Movement, an excellent shot from distance and Messi. But I figure Pedro in that Sanchez spot.

    Possession will be of paramount importance, because when Milan get the ball, they are going to break hard, with the pokiness of our back line in mind. If Xavi hasn’t been passed fit, I will be a worried cowboy. Wouldn’t mind an Iniesta/Busquets/Song midfield in that case, because I still want Fabregas up front.

    I’m figuring on 2-2, to be decided at the Camp.

    1. xavi is fit to play, but i wouldnt be surprised if he started on the bench.

      iniesta messi pedro
      thiago cesc
      busi
      alba pique puyol alves
      valdes

    2. Ah! Iniesta on LW, you’re thinking. He’ll certainly winnow his way into the box enough.

      I’m a lot more worried about this match than many cules, and not just because I’m a worrier. I still think we win the tie, but it isn’t going to be a cakewalk.

    3. well, there is always the flexibility of cesc crashing the box and iniesta dropping into midfield. both players are versatile.

      i think thiago is good enough to start against milan, he has been looking sharp,,,except that horrible giveaway on the freekick last weekend….oy vey….

    4. Put your worries aside. Milan aren’t going to trouble us. They have problems creating chances and this will be a stroll in the park. I expect our A game right out of the gate. 4-1 score line. Messi 2 goals, Iniesta 1, & Puyol header from a corner!

  6. My lineup:

    Valdes
    Alves Puyol Pique Alba
    Thiago Busquets Fabregas
    Alexis Messi Iniesta

    Same as ooga’s but with Alexis instead of Pedro. Xavi can come on later if we need more control, Pedro if we need more width.

  7. “I would jump at this deal offered by Juve for sanchez. 5 Mn for 1 year loan deal and then 20 Mn outright. Recoups 24 Mn we paid for him.”

    I don’t see why we should sell Alexis for less than we paid, especially with the years left on his contract. Receiving large parts of the transfer fee one year later makes it an even worse deal imo.

    Here’s a thought. Over the last season and a half Pedro scored only 1 more goal than Lexus, even though he played 12 more games. But only one of the two is our daily scapegoat.

    Discuss!

    1. I don’t get the Cules who are Alexis haters. The dude comes to play every game. He works his ARSE off to help the team! Yes, he’s fluffed some chances. So has all of our other squad members including Messi. I think he’s essential to our team and I’d hate to see him go. If nothing else came out of the “Messi doesn’t run as much as the others” debate, surely the importance of Alexis in the team was seen??? I think he’ll start this match and harry the back line and create all kinds of havoc. He’s so good at it and I expect some cheap give aways from Milan defenders because of it. Probably resulting in a Messi goal. Visca Sanchez, Visca Barca, Visca Catalunya!

    2. Here’s a thought. Over the last season and a half Pedro scored only 1 more goal than Lexus, even though he played 12 more games. But only one of the two is our daily scapegoat.

      Discuss!

      One of them is a (late) La Masia grad, and the other is not? 😀

    3. @Messiah10
      Just to make clear, even though I quoted pr17 I am not saying he is an “Alexis-hater” or that he is scapegoating him by saying he would except Juve’s reported offer.
      I think Pedro should start in place of Lexus. The CL knock-out stage is no place for players low on confidence.

      @nzm
      Mmmm maybe that sentiment prevails in Catalunya, and you would be one of the best-placed persons to inform us, however most here are international culés.
      I love how la Masía produces so many good players and I generally prefer to see local talent over “imports” on any team, anywhere, but I think this current Barça has enough homegrown players for this not to be an issue.

      One of the disadvantages of not being from the Masía could be that having cost us over 26M euro (+11M in variables) might mean people feel he is not living up to the expectations that transfer fee generated.

    4. I don’t think so it’s rather a debate of merits vs non-merits.

      One is a long-standing and successful part of the team who has proven his nack for goals and his mental strengths while the other one is still a freshman who had his purple patches(some spectaculary ie clásico)but still has a lot to offer to gain that status Pedro has..

      And to be honest that’s pretty harsh and goddamn unfair but a normal way of thinking in the eyes of a fan 🙂

    1. I got the Big. Game. Neeerves rolling around in my stomach!

      Anything less than a win, I ‘ll be disappointed. High expectations are a mo-fo, I know!

  8. Jersey-check
    Nachos-check
    Have the wife sing along with the champions league anthem -check
    (Believe me it works)
    Ok I think I’m ready 🙂

    Btw glad to see a Xavi start and Iniesta on the left. Gonna be interesting.

    Big breath….

  9. Post descriptively please— I’m stuck at a kid’s physical therapy appt. for a while and can’ t watch. 🙁

  10. After all the debates this week and looking back at some matches, while watching today I’m thinking “Boy have we lost some dynamic… credit to the opposition… but FLUIDITY???”
    A bit static…compared i guess

    1. milan have all their players in the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the pitch. serious bus parking going on. we havent had many clear chances, but it’s tough when there are two lines of 5 with almost no space in between.

      interestingly, messi was playing on the right wing for the last part of the half.

    2. 66% possession, us.

      367 passes to 160 for milan, we have 84% completion while they have about 60.

      when they get the ball, there is lots of space behind us to attack. weve seen this before. el-hairaway (like that one) looks dangerous.

      pique was playing up as a 9 for a bit there. puyol is looking boss in defense.

  11. Packing the block at the back. I hate the 0-0 away draw. One stupid lucky goal at our home can settle those ties. I really hope we get at least one goal in the next half.

  12. Ugh, I hate playing italian teams. Not to be a pessimist but it wont be good if they go with a 0-0 to the camp nou

  13. Sanchez needs to come on. I’d like to see Cesc off, Iniesta in the middle, Sanchez and Pedro up front.

  14. And our game plan is??? Pass the ball till death?
    Oh wait, they parked the bus!
    As i said 2 weeks ago when we faced a really weakened RM and didn’t took the chance to kill the tie there, we are doing the same tonight. Facing one of the weakest Milan teams in the past 20 years, instead of playing our game, more accuracy in our passes, faster balls, try and break that defensive line, we our doing our best in replicating our Chelsea game. Pass, pass, pass, pass…oops, the game is over.
    We have to kill the tie in San Siro. One stupid, out of nowhere goal from them and we will be screwed, regardless if it’s tonight or in the return leg.
    Simply, we are not trying enough to play more dangerously, this is just to safe for my liking.

    1. I’m not seeing this as a very weak team. They have a whack of pace and decent first time passing on the counter..

    2. What i would say is that where this Barca really irks me is not playing with enough urgency sometimes and we then only see it when we’re chasing the game. In this game, like the Madrid one a couple of weeks ago i thought we played too cautious and not to be scored on… when we do that we always get scored on. When need to take the game by the scruff of its neck more often. Be ruthless; “that’s the greatest way to respect another team”

  15. Its gonna be 0 0 if the lineups stay the same. I have a feeling Xavi is not 100%…. he is not turning the ball around quick enough, and/or making crisp passes.

  16. Cowardly bus parking from Milan. It was to be expected.
    Best stat for us is that in last 5 years no team has been able to clock 50% + possession against us. We play on our terms but 10 man bus parking is still cowardly from Milan.

    Tello might be able to do something. In matches like these i miss cuenca who is the best person to stretch a defence and send good crosses. For me Cuenca >> Tello. Tello will have space to run onto.

    Not a game for cesc. Maybe somebody on left wing, even alexis is better than iniesta there.

  17. Hate to say it —but when we’re too busy “calling” the game to defend, then they deserve to go up. It was a handball, but play to the whistle, dudes.

  18. the bugger didnt even add 20 secs as extra time. I could clearly remember prince, constant and montolivo falling down in first half. Litany of small but crucial errors from the idiot scot.

    1. Ok, he made a rickets of the handball and ill never defend a ref on principle even if he is a Scot but criticising him for not adding 20 secs?

  19. Not sure there was any time to do anything . The handball took all the pace off the ball and he hit it when it dropped.

  20. Milan playing the perfect anti-barca game. We are not exactly helping since we have reverted back to our late 2011-2012 form of penetration-less possession

  21. We should ask pedro and alexis to make runs and ask xavi and iniesta to take a few risks and try passing onto them even if it is 30-50% probability ball. Some balls will be swept untidily and messi can sweep them up

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