A ‘park the bus III’ is expected (after Inter Milan and Chelsea) at the Camp Nou this Tuesday night.
AC Milan triumphed over Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie, three weeks ago.The Ghanaians and ex-Portsmouth players, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were on target, helping Milan beat the Blaugrana by 2 goals to nil at the San Siro to the surprise of many.
Barcelona manager, Villanova Tito is currently receiving treatment in the United States. His assistant, Roura would have the headache of overturning this two goal deficit.
I will briefly look at the measures that must be deployed in order for Barcelona to beat the Italians and progress to the quarter final.
1. Keep the back tight.
Not taking anything away from the Milan defence, Barcelona will inevitably score. Records of UEFA Champions League games where Barcelona needed goals to qualify in the return leg at the Camp Nou do not favour A.C Milan. The Spanish side can level the aggregate score and push the game into extra time.
However, progressing to the next stage will heavily depend on their ability to keep a clean sheet. Out of 8 games played at the Camp Nou this year, the team has only managed to keep 3 clean sheets, conceding 8 goals in all. An average of 1 goal every game.
Barcelona’s high defensive line makes it easy for opposing teams to catch them on the break. The back line of four must always fall back in position to clamp down on the counter attack of Boateng and El Shaarawy.
The organiser of the defence, Valdes would have to put up the best of performances.
“Valdes cannot even catch a flu“, said a comedian.
The goalie has been under criticism lately. A good sweeper he is but that must be consistent with keeping.
2. Start David Villa and play him behind the Milan defence.
Getting early goals will be as equally important as keeping a clean sheet. Barcelona’s inability to get as many shots on target lately is as a result of the over reliance on Messi and the preference of Fabregas’ and Sanchez’s work rate to David Villa‘s clinical finishing.
Villa has not been able to fully regain his form since picking up an injury during the FIFA Club World Cup in 2011 but he remains the only typical centre forward of Barcelona.
As expected, Messi will fall deep which means someone would have to get in behind the Milan defence and make runs. Villa does that better. There is no reason a team should keep its second top scorer in the league on the bench when fully fit.
3. Make use of headers
Barcelona clearly didn’t have a plan B in the first leg. Playing through the middle with forward searching passes and low crosses are what the Catalans do very effectively but prove inadequate when the opponent plays a compact defending game, which is the strength of this Milan side.
Only two goals have been scored from headers this year by Barcelona. They would have to make use of it more. Camp Nou is wide enough. Sending the ball down the wings will stretch the Milan defence. Alba and Alves especially must improve the quality of their crosses and Villa adding a central role to his wing duties will mean, there will be a target man to get his head to the crosses.
4. Messi and Iniesta must have their day.
Messi and Iniesta are currently the club’s top scorer and top assist respectively. The two must eclipse the standard of play set by themselves. Messi has struggled to live up to expectation since the defeat at Milan but had a way of silencing his critics with a spectacular trademark goal on saturday against Deportivo la Corunã, and thus setting a record to become the only player to score in 17 consecutive league games. That’s the quality of finishing that will be needed.
Iniesta’s dribbling prowess would have to complement Messi’. He has practised to perfection, feints and waltz through defences. It would be of immense benefit to play him in the midfield where he can serve as a link between the midfield and the attack through his lob passes. A pass from him is certainly worth three of his shots. If Barca will triumph on Tuesday, a good telepathic play is expected between Messi and Iniesta
5. Get Xavi fit.
Xavi suffered a hamstring injury the return leg of the Copa del Rey semi final against Real Madrid which ended in a 3-1 thrashing of Barcelona at home. This has ruled him out for 10 to 15 days and makes him doubtful for Tuesday’s game.
Good news however broke for the Cules as it was reported on Barcelona’s official website that Xavi had started training with the rest of the group. However, he is yet to recover fully. His recovery in time will be an added advantage. Likely to start in his place if he is unable to recover is Thiago.
SUGGESTED FORMATION AND LINE- UP
BY: Daniel Nabary