They’re top of their league and comfortably in line to regain their title, in the last 16 of the Champions’ League, and have a team packed with internationals, topped off with a player widely held to be the world’s best, so it may be a bit of an overstretch to call it a crisis. That said, after a run of four defeats in five games – two against arch rivals Real Madrid, one when los Blancos had a reserve team out, all is not good in Barcelona’s Catalan garden. None of this of course is to mention that manager Tito Villanova is still in America battling throat cancer.
With all this in mind, Barcaface a crucial game against AC Milan this week, when the rossoneri bring the two goal lead that they earned a couple of weeks ago in Italy to the Camp Nou. It’s a Champions’ League of rare quality this season, with any number of top clubs – including these two protagonists – having valid claims to be contenders for the title. That said, not qualifying for the quarter finals at least, will be unacceptable to the Barcacules gorged on success. Having to beat the Italian club by a three goal margin however, will be no stroll in the park.
The Blaugrana starting eleven will doubtless be packed with goal scoring potential, and netting three times will only equate to their average per game this season. With Messi looking to feast on the promptings of Inniesta and Xavi, ably supported by Pedro, Fabregas and Villa, Milan will have it all on to keep the free-scoring Barcelona under the same lock and key security that they had at the San Siro. It would be no surprise to see Barcelona with two – or even three – goals tucked away by half time. That said, it’s just as vital that the Catalan back door remains securely locked. Conceding an away goal could make it a mountainous task, and that is where the pivotal point of the game may be.
The old trick of catenachio Italian defending, although not extinct, is not the only card in Milan’s pack these days. In El Shaaraway, they have a player with the exceptional football brain and perhaps just as importantly, the pace to keep whichever of Barca’s defenders play on their mettle. Milan’s manager Allegri is no fool, and will have seen how Mourinho’s Real Madrid, went to the Camp Nou, and deservedly beat the Catalans by exposing the space out wide in the Barcelona half left by the marauding play of Alves and Jordi Alba. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Allegri will anticipate the likelihood of Barcelona scoring enough goals to turn around the deficit, and will have accepted the scenario of having to score if they are to qualify.
Personally, I think the game has all the makings of a classic, and whilst my head tells me that Barca will prevail, I think it will be close, and wouldn’t be surprised if a Milanese team accounts for Barcelona for the second time in four years. As I mention, it’s certainly not time to talk of a crisis at Barcelona, but if Milan end the Catalan interest in Europe’s premier competition, it will be a fairly flat end to a season that started so with such enterprising play and promise.