Milan have every chance of progressing to the semifinals…
Following the 0-0 draw at the San Siro, Milan have every chance of stunning Barcelona – and the world – at the Camp Nou and progressing to the Champions League semifinals.
After all, Barca have struggled previously in knockout Champions League ties against Serie A opposition, most famously in 2010 when they crashed out to Inter.
Whilst they are the clear favourites in this game – which team wouldn’t be with Lionel Messi and that midfield? – to progress to the next stage, there is every possibility the Rossoneri could spring a surprise and advance themselves.
So here are five reasons why Milan will stun Barca at the Camp Nou in the quarterfinal return leg, and deny La Blaugrana the chance for an El Clasico final with Real Madrid.
Milan’s Front Three
Milan’s front three of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic caused Barcelona problems on Wednesday night, and could very well do so again in the quarterfinal return leg.
Milan coach Max Allegri made a very high line in attack, with his front three spread across the final third pressurizing the Barca defence when they had the ball.
It caused the Catalans to slip up a few times and concede possession in dangerous areas, and could’ve very well seen them lose the match had Robinho not spurned a golden opportunity.
In the second leg in Barcelona, Allegri will no doubt deploy another high line in attack. And since the Milan players have nothing to lose, it could cause a lot of jitters, and subsequent costly lapses in concentration, in that Barca defence when under pressure.
Barcelona’s Catenaccio Struggle
Barcelona, especially under Pep Guardiola, have struggled most against Italian teams in the Champions League, with the trademark catenaccio style often slicing straight through Barca’s tiki-taka football.
In a packed defence with attacking options heavily marked, Barca found it hard at the San Siro to create the openings they usually would, and they made fewer key passes than they normally do.
And when Barca’s defence was attacked at pace, on the counter-attack, there were signs of a big dent in their armour, with Gerard Pique especially having trouble clearing the danger.
In the high pressure stakes of the return leg, Barca’s unease against catenaccio teams would work into Milan’s favour, especially if the game draws nearer to its end and the home side still aren’t in the lead.
After all, the disciplined style from the Italians works best when the pressure’s on the opposition.
Psychological Pressure on Barcelona
Barcelona will be the ones with all the psychological pressure heading into that return leg at the Camp Nou.
After all, everyone sees them as the clear favourites to advance, and the 90,000 strong home support will expect nothing less than a victory, along with the millions more watching on TV.
Nobody is really giving Milan much of a chance, and that should work in the Rossoneri’s favour, as they’ll have the freedom to take risks going forward.
Barca won’t have such a luxury, and will no doubt have to play it safe to avoid the Milan counter-attack, which caused them problems in the first leg and in the 2-2 draw at home back in the group stage.
That could see them succumb to a score draw, or even lose, given how tight and condensed the Rossoneri can make their back line.
If Milan are to progress, it could well be down to their main man Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The striker’s positioning, movement and awareness caught the Barcelona defence out in the first half at the San Siro, and going back to the Camp Nou, the former Barca forward will undoubtedly be fired up to go one better.
His diagonal run to meet a through ball and cut into the opposition defence left him with a great chance to score.
And his positioning and awareness to make a great key pass for Kevin-Prince Boateng proved not just what he can do with time on the ball, but also the unpredictability of his game.
The last time Barca played a tall, strong, fired up, unpredictable striker, they lost 3-2 to Osasuna.
Dejan Lekic, a player in the mould of Ibrahimovic, scored twice for Los Rojillos.
And considering they’ll now be up against possibly the best tall, strong, unpredictable and inevitably fired-up striker in world football right now, there’s a chance the big Swede will make a big difference.
Away Goal Advantage
“We knew Milan’s quality and not scoring in the away leg is a bit damaging for us”, Barca boss Pep Guardiola said after the game at the San Siro.
He is right, of course. The psychological ascendancy is definitely with Milan right now, who know that as long as they score and don’t lose, they’re through to the next round.
Given how Barca failed to make the breakthrough in Italy and will be under more pressure than ever to do so at home, scoring the opener will be absolutely vital for La Blaugrana.
Seeing as Max Allegri will no doubt know that and will seek to stifle the hosts, impatience and frustration could easily seep into Barca’s game, which as we know before in the high pressure games has cost the current La Liga and Champions League champions greatly.
If the Rossoneri can hold out like they did at home – quite possible given the huge prize they know is at stake—then this quarterfinal tie can very easily swing in their favour.
As it stands, Barcelona are the big favourites to go through, but Milan have every chance of progressing themselves.