The Talking Baws writers got their heads together to preview tonight’s big match, AC Milan vs. Barcelona. Frankie Hobbs, Sam Crocker and Tom Wilde all could agree on one thing, it’s going to be a tough night for Milan against this Barcelona team.
1) How do you stop a team like Barcelona?
Frankie: It’s a fine balancing act; do you press them high, only for them to pick you apart, or do you sit deep and allow for pressure to build? I think a combination of both is probably the most effective. Barca often have troubles with lightning quick players, a lá Theo Walcott, so a counter-attacking game filled with pace seems to be the most logical – but it’s vital not to drop too deep as Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas will pick out a pass over the duration of 90 minutes. Every team that plays Barcelona will have to deal with long periods without the ball, which makes it vital to make the most of the little possession you do see.
Sam: You better hope Silvio (Berlusconi) has invested some money in the public transport sector – because Milan are going to need a bus to stop Barca. Teams have proved that by sitting back and letting Barca come onto them, any team can grind out a result (even Celtic). Now whether Milan have the personality at the back for this purpose is another question, but that’s the only way you can do it in the mood Barca are currently in.
Tom: Hard work, concentration and intelligence. In order to stop Barcelona there is no substitute for hard work. You have to press high, run a lot and, most importantly, you have to be 100% focussed and concentrated. Then, once you’ve done all that you need to run some more. And maybe even a bit more after that. It is very important when playing against Barcelona to counter attack intelligently. Send eight men forward as soon as you get possession and Barca will hurt you. Their defence has been leaking goals in recent weeks and are certainly not impenetrable.
2) Mario Balotelli is cup tied, can Milan win without him?
Frankie: I wouldn’t give AC Milan much of a chance with Balotelli, let alone without him. The controversial striker has already made his mark with his new side and will be a miss, especially given Milan’s sale of Alexandre Pato in January. Having said that, the absence of Balotelli does provide a few positives. Firstly, he isn’t the hardest working player in the world. Against Barça, you need everyone fighting for the cause. Who remembers Samuel Eto’o filling in at right-midfield at Camp Nou for Inter Milan in 2010? Balotelli would be hard pushed to do similar. All things considered, Milan aren’t the threat they were years ago. They’ve lost a lot of quality – and one of their best replacement is not eligible. The Rossoneri will provide a stern challenge at the San Siro, but I can’t see them winning this tie once it goes back to Catalonia.
Sam: Being a big lad, Balotelli would certainly be useful for Milan tonight. He probably is their best option to hold up the ball so others can run off him when they break, whilst also having the potential to pull the spectacular out the bag to grab that key goal. But not exactly known for the hard work which is required in such a game, perhaps it’s not such a big loss.
Tom: While Balotelli has had a great start since his January move to Milan, I don’t think he would have been key in the tie. Balotelli has a tendency to slow the play down when he’s in possession, I think more direct players are more dangerous against Barcelona, so the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy (if he is fit), M’Baye Niang and Kevin-Prince Boateng will be dangerous on the break. I also see Balotelli as more of a liability in these games, his inconsistency is something that could cost Milan in a fixture of this magnitude. So yes, Milan can win without him.
3) and finally…. what are you looking out for?
Frankie: Stephan El Shaarawy, and how he steps up to one of the biggest games of his young career. The hedgehog look-a-like has been tremendous this year, solidifying his place as one of the premier prospects in Europe with a string of good performances in the Serie A. Playing against Barcelona is a whole new world, and one in which he can really announce himself on the European stage. Go get em’, Stephan.
Sam: How the Milan defence cope. Not the sprightliest line-up at the back, experience will certainly have to make up for their lack of pace and stamina. Also, if Niang starts up top, I’m interested to see how he holds up the ball against arguably the world’s finest central defensive pairing
Tom: I’m hoping for a competitive game. So often Barca steamroller over teams and it doesn’t make for a very interesting affair. The pair met four times in last season’s competition, in the group phase and the quarter finals. The group stage encounters were very competitive, with Barca winning 3-2 at San Siro and the pair sharing the spoils with an enthralling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou. The quarter-final was a bit different however, goalless in San Siro in the first leg, which was a good result for Milan. The second leg was marred by some bad refereeing decisions that cost Milan though, and Barcelona ran out 3-1 winners. Hopefully the matches are as interesting as we seen last season.
How do you think the game will go? Can AC Milan upset the odds against an almost superhuman Barcelona team? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below. We want to hear your view.