AC Milan face the toughest task in football in their last-16 Champions League tie.
Massimiliano Alegri's side have been in good form since the turn of the year, spurred on by the recruitment of a certain Mario Balotelli.
However, if the Rossoneri are to triumph over the Catalan giants, they will have to do so without their new talisman. He is cup-tied for the knockout stages of the competition. Another key absentee may well be Milan's top scorer this season, Stephan El Shaarawy. He is unlikely to feature due to injury.
Despite these two absentees, Messi and company will rock up knowing they must fight for a result in the San Siro. Milan have not been so generous to visiting teams in their own back yard as of late, especially compared to their home form in the Champions League earlier this season.
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, beating Barcelona is exceptionally difficult.
How can Milan pull this one off?
First and foremost, they will have to attack their Spanish opponents. That is without question. With a second-leg looming at the Camp Nou, you can't help but feel Milan must take the lead at home if they are going to progress in this competition.
What's more, why wouldn't you attack them? Barca have been really shaky at the back recently, going nine games in a row without notching a clean sheet. Milan have to fancy their chances of scoring at least once against a defence that is clearly not functioning, especially with the Italians on their home patch.
AC Milan will no doubt look to get out of the traps quickly, doing their best to prevent Barca settling into their inevitable, metronomic passing game. If they can grab a goal early, they will fancy their chances of springing a surprise. Once Barca settle, I expect the Italians to sit back, absorb pressure and try to counter attack. Is there anything else you can do against Barcelona?
In some respects, the absence of Balotelli and El Shaarawy might be a blessing in disguise for Milan. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Giampaolo Pazzini look likely to operate as part of a front three. For all the qualities Balotelli and El Shaarawy offer, you have to think that Pazzini and Boateng will offer increased work-rate and industry—industry which will obviously be key in a game in which they will see little of the ball.
With an energetic front three and a midfield packed full of runners, Milan could frustrate Barca for long periods. If they can get off to a good start, I think Barcelona could well struggle to leave the San Siro with a victory.
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