El Centrocampista

Return of the Rossoneri : April has potential to define the seasons of both Barcelona and Milan

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As April arrives in Catalunya, FC Barcelona know that this month will shape the lasting memory of the 2011-12 season for the reigning European champions. Should Guardiola mastermind a defeat of AC Milan and guarantee his side’s passage into the Champions League semi-finals, he will ensure that Barça are still capable of making history in Europe. Should he fail, the possibility of ending the season with a maximum of one, or in a worst case scenario, no trophies at all becomes very realistic.

Pep Guardiola has gone on the record in recent weeks as saying that the Champions League is very much his club’s priority. In a sense, he sort of had to. With the huge gap between his team and Real Madrid in the league, focusing on the premier European competition helped to maintain an air of positivity at the Camp Nou amongst a sea of domestic doubt.

Barcelona fans responded well. ‘Sod the league, Europe’s more important’ was the general feeling (albeit a convenient one). If Barcelona could become the first side to defend the modern Champions League, all domestic sins would be forgiven. Or at least that was the theory.

The problem is, AC Milan don’t plan on lying down along the way. The Italians have their own European dream, and it’s equally as important as Barcelona’s. Should Real Madrid claim the European title this year, they will extend their lead over Milan in Europe to ten trophies over the Rossoneri’s current seven. For a side of Milan’s European pedigree and immense pride, that would be a bitter pill to swallow. What better way to ensure that this doesn’t happen than by shortening the gap between the two sides to one, and defeating the leaders in the final? 9-8 sounds a lot better than 10-7, doesn’t it?

Milan will come to the Camp Nou on Tuesday night with a greater purpose of their own then. On a more tangible level, they will also come to Catalunya off the back of a 1-1 away draw to Catania in Serie A. The same result in Barcelona would ensure the Rossoneri progress. Cat…ania, Cat..alunya. O.K, so I’m probably going one step too far with that one….

Catania isn’t Catalunya of course, and indeed, whilst a draw would be a perfect result for Milan at the Camp Nou, it proved to be a fairly miserable result for them domestically. It’s funny how football works.

The next few days will no doubt be fascinating for fans of both sides and the neutral alike. Milan still have their injury woes from last week, with Tiago Silva set to miss out again. Though his absence didn’t prove decisive in the home leg of this tie, against a Barcelona side operating on their own, slick pitch with their home crowd behind them, a defender of his class and mobility will surely be missed.

Barcelona for their part will be without Eric Abidal, leaving Guardiola with a few lesser options regarding the left-back position. Whilst Carles Puyol has been deployed there on various occasions throughout this season, it’s likely that he will be in the middle alongside Gerard Pique, with Adriano returning from injury to cover the left of defense.

With Pique and Puyol bolstering the back-line, Barcelona, at least  statistically, tend to win. Guardiola will be more than aware of this. That being said, the options the two provide at the back rather than their talismanic significance will be more important to the Barcelona coach.

It’s likely that Milan will opt to hit Barcelona on the counter, requiring the attentiveness and experience of Carles Puyol. Equally, Gerard Pique has picked the perfect moment to find form, and his display against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend was perhaps his best of this season to date.

With Guardiola likely to require an extra man moving between the lines from defense into midfield, in order to break down a Milan side that have already proven to be stubborn, Pique at his best is the perfect person to do so.

Tuesday, on paper, is the most intriguing Champions League tie I can remember, with few certainties, entertainment for the neutral and pain for the partisan guaranteed. When the dust settles and all is said and done, one team will feel like fate has been on their side in chasing their European dream. Which team that will be is anybody’s guess.


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