Two giants of world football in AC Milan and Barcelona will do battle this week as the race for the UEFA Champions League title heads into the Round of 16.
The Italian powerhouse will welcome the current La Liga leaders to the San Siro in a highly anticipated affair, with both teams showing throughout the group stages that they have the potential to make some serious noise in this year's competition.
Milan have won the Champions League title seven times before in their illustrious history (second-most of all time) and have also made a staggering 11 finals as well. However, Barcelona are quickly closing in on that mark with four titles and seven finals appearances—including three titles in the last seven years.
Will the Spanish giants continue their dominance in world football with a strong performance on the road here, or will it be AC Milan who pull through?
Read on for a full preview of the Champions League match this week, including all the important details, viewing information and last-minute predictions.
Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Start time: 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. British time)
Venue: San Siro, Milan
Live Stream and TV Info
According to Live Soccer TV, FOX Deportes, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer 2Go will all show coverage of the match throughout the United States.
Sky Sports Events Centre, Sky Sports 3D, Sky Sports 2/HD, Sky Go will do the same throughout the United Kingdom.
The Season so Far: AC Milan
After a sluggish start to the season, Milan are finally starting to get rolling at the moment and are in the middle of some strong form heading into this one.
The Italian side have lost just once in their last 13 matches and haven't been beaten at the San Siro domestically since February. New signing Mario Balotelli has been combining beautifully with Stephan El Shaarawy in attack, and while the former of that pair won't be available for selection in this one, you can expect that Milan will certainly not be lacking going forward this week.
The Rossoneri are currently conceding less than a goal per game at the San Siro this year and will no doubt be very tough to break down at home here.
The Season so Far: Barcelona
After a frustrating 2012 that saw them finish second in La Liga and knocked out in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona have been in absolutely scintillating form this season in both competitions through 2013.
The Spanish giants have a commanding lead in La Liga with just one loss recorded all year and have won a staggering 21 of their 24 domestic matches to date.
Barca finished on top of their group in the Champions League, with just the shock loss to Celtic outstanding as their only real blemish of the campaign. Their attack will no doubt be firing once again here as they look to impose their possession-based dominance on Milan.
Key Player to Watch: Stephan El Shaarawy
The Milan striker will certainly be the player to watch for the home side here given his attacking skills and goal-scoring strengths, which he has shown throughout the year. Both in Italy and in Europe, El Shaarawy has proven himself to be more than just a hot, young prospect, and he'll have a big task ahead of him here leading the Rossoneri attack into battle.
El Shaarawy will be without Italian international partner Mario Balotelli at the top of the attack given that the former Manchester City striker is already cup-tied to his previous club in this competition. That will put all the pressure on the Italian prince to perform to his greatest here.
The 20-year-old leads the team in goals scored this year with 15 in Serie A, which is good for second-overall in the competition behind Edinson Cavani. El Shaarway also scored twice for Milan in the Champions League group stages.
Barcelona's defenders do love to push forward from time to time, and they haven't been as solid at the back as they have otherwise suggested. The Spanish giants have only kept one clean sheet so far in 2013 and have just two shutouts in their last 15 domestic appearances—against far weaker opposition than what they're likely to come up against here from Milan.
El Shaarawy will have a great chance to get Milan off to a huge advantage in their first leg if he can break down Barcelona's back four in this one.
Three Stats to Consider
0—AC Milan are yet to win at home in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League despite progressing through to the Round of 16, and boasting a strong home record domestically. They are the only team in the remaining 16 that didn't have a home win through the group stages.
22—Barcelona are undefeated in 22 of their last 24 games in the Champions League knockout stages, with both losses coming away from home in Great Britain.
75.8—Barcelona led all teams with average possession in the group stages this year, averaging a staggering 75.8 percent through their six matches.
Barcelona, with their rich attacking pedigree that centers around the superhuman Lionel Messi, have every right to head into this match as favorites.
They have been nearly unstoppable through 2013 across all competitions and are simply so strong right across the pitch that anything other than a perfect performance from their opposition will likely result in a Barca victory.
Having said that, the San Siro is certainly no easy place to travel in world football, and especially not when it's the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Milan will certainly be geared up for a big performance in front of their home fans and, with a solid form line under their belts, could well produce a goal or two against the La Liga leaders in this one.
The biggest question will be as to whether that will be enough, with the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta likely to combine for goals at the other end also. And for me, I just don't quite see the Rossoneri producing enough to walk away with a lead in hand here.
I'd say early goals to both teams keep this one level heading into the interval, but goals on the other side of halftime to Barcelona will prove the difference.
Barca will head back to the Nou Camp all but assured of victory in the European competition—having staked their claim once more as the team to watch this year.
Prediction: AC Milan 1, Barcelona 3
What do you think will happen between AC Milan and Barcelona this week?
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