Nothing destabilizes Barcelona’s invincible soldiers more than negative football does. If Milan want to triumph in the Champions League Last 16, they must ignore the importance of playing a beautiful game.
Mario Balotelli’s inability to feature in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League as a cup-tied player means that Milan will be missing a key element in their puzzle against Barcelona. The Italians certainly cannot afford to push forward too much. When asked how the Rossoneri could overcome a Barcelona squad powered by the presence of Lionel Messi, Panchina d’Oro winner Antonio Conte of Juventus told reporters on Tuesday:
“How do you stop Messi? With a gun!”
This humorous answer might be similar to ‘parking the bus’ or ‘man-marking’ La Pulga. In fact, Milan are arguably no match for Barcelona on paper – player for player. Only tactics, and perhaps luck as Fabio Capello declared, could put the Rossoneri on top of the Blaugrana in this Last 16 tie.
Barcelona lead the possession chart by far in the UEFA Champions League this season. Statistics show that the Catalans gather an average of 75.5 per cent of ball possession in the tournament ahead of German giants Bayern Munich (60.9) and English masters Manchester United (57. 3).
Besides this fact, no team beats Barcelona when it comes to pass accuracy. Tito Vilanova’s side, guided by the wisdom of Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, perfectly executed 91.6 per cent of their passes in the group stages. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri singled out ‘courage, strength and spirit’ as the three keys to unlock Barcelona’s fortress. During Tuesday’s pre-match press conference, the Italian manager stated:
“It doesn’t matter if we are facing Barca, Juve or Real Madrid. We need to be focused, run a lot and be good technically. We must try to limit Barca’s ball possession, and be good when we have the ball as they could give away space.”
Indeed, the Catalans’ defence has been questionable at times this season. Real Sociedad, making full use of this, beat them 3-2 in La Liga earlier in January. In the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, Malaga also managed to put four goals past Barcelona over the two legs.
Unfortunately for Malaga, they had more problems than Barca in defence so they ended up losing the tie 6-4 on aggregate. Learning from these matches and other past experiences, a good way for Milan to stop the rampant Blaugrana will be to play an ultra-defensive formation and hit the visitors on the counter.
As Milan president Silvio Berlusconi admitted on Monday in an interview with RTL 102.5, “it will be very difficult to beat Barcelona.”
“I know the role of the president and that of the coach – I respect those,” Berlusconi added before concluding on this matter:
“However, a president has the right to give advice to his coach. On this occasion, my suggestion would be that Messi is man-marked.”
Milan – with an unfit El Shaarawy and the absence of ‘Super Mario’ – may attempt to play an open game in the name of boldness. However, that could mean suicide for the hosts, advantage to Barcelona and an exhibition of goals for the entertainment of the public.
Silvio Berlusconi is known for giving ideas to Allegri before matches. He might have found the correct ugly plan to knock Barcelona out of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16: man-mark Lionel Messi… and park the bus!