Our Guest Poster Joe Short looks into the clash of the titans…
Milan begin the hardest task in European football on Wednesday night as they face Barcelona in the last 16 stage of the UEFA Champions League, with the first leg at the San Siro.
Without influential new striker, Mario Balotelli – who is cup tied since he played for Manchester City in the group stages last autumn – Milan manager, Massimiliano Allegri, will be forced to make changes up front against arguably the best opposition on the continent.
Having favoured playing Balotelli as the lone striker for the last three games, Allegri may stick in Giampaolo Pazzini as a replacement, although the Italian has not played a minute of football for Milan since Balotelli’s arrival.
Instead, Kevin-Prince Boateng could play as the lead man in an advancing midfield role, orchestrating himself, Bojan, and Stephan El Shaarawy. By progressing forward as a unit instead of keeping a striker up front on his own, they could pose a threat to Barca while also helping the midfield without the ball.
If Allegri goes with this midfield, then Betfair football pundits think Milan have a real chance of surprising Barca and taking the game to the Catalan giants. Barca may have won their last two games but were far from convincing against Getafe last weekend and face a Milan side bang in form.
Although much of the praise must go to Balotelli for giving the Rossoneri an outlet up front, the defence has remained solid over the past month and Sulley Muntari soldiers his midfield to great effect.
Make no mistake, Barcelona will come at Milan and it is Muntari’s job to structure the defensive cover, but, if Milan can use their midfield to retain possession for long periods, they have a chance of stinging their opponents – regardless of Super Mario’s absence and their unfavorable odds on Betfair.