Football is a very interesting sport and there are a lot of reasons why we follow it. The score at the end of the game is just the beginning; we want to know who scored, who was the man-of-the-match, how the coach’s decisions affected the game, how the referee performed in the game, how the game would have ended if that penalty was given as well as how our team might perform in the next game using the previous game as a reference.
For FC Barcelona’s next Champions League clash with AC Milan, we are going to look at a very interesting side of the game. It’s the part of the game where we have defenders from one team trying to stop the attackers from the other team hoping that their own attackers will do well against the opposition defenders; how the midfielders might have to play against each other to control the game or how the Managers may outsmart each other. All this so that they can achieve the most important goal come the final whistle, which is to outscore the opposition. The last time the teams met it was a thriller of a game which kept the fans at the edge of their seats until the final whistle. Two Milan goals in the 1st and last minute of the game sandwiched the same number of goals from Barcelona. With top spot up for grabs in group H, let’s see how some players might have to deal with the opposing star players in this coming clash:
Alexandre Pato VS Carles Puyol
The Brazilian ace was at an incredible level of form the last time the two teams met, scoring in just 24 seconds, the fifth quickest goal in the competition’s history. His pace, being the main ingredient of the goal, was a constant threat to the Barcelona defense. The Barcelona captain was still out when that game was played recovering from an injury that kept him out for around six months. Now he is back to full fitness and he will still have the recent league game against Real Zaragoza in which he scored to motivate himself. On the other hand, Pato has just recovered from an injury and only came in as a substitute in Milan’s league clash with Fiorentina in the weekend in which his efforts were not enough to avoid ending the game in a stalemate. With their many differences, Pato and Puyol have something in common, which is their pace, other than that each one of them will be hoping to outsmart the other.
Lionel Messi VS Thiago Silva
With five goals to his name already in the Champions League, Messi will be looking to eclipse the record 12 goals he scored last season and continue his streak of being the top goal scorer for the three previous seasons. Messi was a constant threat in the previous clash between the two teams and Barcelona might have lost that game without him. He didn’t get a goal but his pace and technical ability was enough to beat three defenders and pass the ball past the keeper for Pedro to tap-in the equalizer. The virtual rivalry we are initiating between the two might link very well with their nationalities, with Argentina and Brazil not being able to look eye-to-eye in the pitch, Messi and Silva will be the perfect match. Messi is coming off a great weekend where he got a goal in the 4-0 demolition of Zaragoza.
Thiago Silva will be a little disappointed for not getting the three points in the weekend even though he did keep a clean sheet. At 27 years of age, Silva is a world class defender and it’s not surprising to hear news floating around that Barcelona is keeping an eye on him. He was fairly anonymous the last time he played the European champions but his presence was enough to deny them the three points, slotting an unbelievable header in the dying moments of the game. The Brazilian will be looking to keep the Argentine Ace silent when they meet in order to keep his team’s hopes of leading the group alive, although he knows that he will need a bit of intervention for that to be possible.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic VS Gerard Pique
At 30 years old, "I am Zlatan" is currently at his peak, scoring goals at will. He currently has 10 goals in 12 official games for Milan and he has a goal per game in three games in the Champions League. If you know about the different kinds of strikers out there, you’ll know that Zlatan is unique in his own way. He is not the skill-gifted kind of an attacker like the Messis, Aqueros or Ronaldos out there; he is the direct traditional striker, the "I get the ball and I score and if I lose it my team mates get it for me" kind of a striker. With his controversial Autobiography topping the headlines recently, Ibrahimovic will be looking forward to saying "in your face" to his previous employers when the ref blows the final whistle. To do that, he will be hoping to put as many goals as he can past Victor Valdes to prove that someone was wrong to let him go. He will be looking forward to meeting the Press or starting another biography saying "see, I still got it". Jokes aside, Zlatan will have extra motivation to be a constant threat to Barcelona’s last line of defence.
Like Puyol, Gerard Pique has just gotten back to the level of form that has won him a position as one of the best defenders in the world. Injuries were a constant setback for the World cup winner at the start of this campaign and he missed the previous clash with Milan as a result. Like three other Barcelona players, he is coming off a weekend with a goal to his name. Pique will be looking forward to silencing the Swedish international come the Milan game and he has the skill and ability to do so with ease. If Milan’s game plan will be putting 10 men behind the ball in their home ground, fans will not be surprised to see him around the opposition’s attacking third.
Xavi Hernandez Vs Mark Van Bommel
The Midfield is a very important zone in a match and a lot of games are won and lost there. Xavi, the Spanish maestro who is well known for dictating the pace and tempo of games will be up against Van Bommel, the Dutch midfield destroyer. It’s easy for these two players to decide the tie. Barcelona relies heavily on his position to do their magic, but if the midfield genius can’t hold the ball for them and distribute it like he always does they might be faced with a very long difficult game. Xavi is very creative in midfield and even though he doesn’t always provide the final pass, he is at the center of almost all of Barca’s dangerous attacks. Van Bommel will have a serious mission in this coming clash, to destroy Xavi’s game; to win the midfield battle. Spaniards will remember him for being very physical in South Africa during the World Cup final, but Mark has been much more disciplined this season, with only 3 bookings in all competitions for Milan, only one in three games in the Champions League. If he can limit Barcelona to as low as 60% ball possession, he can afford his team enough chances to probably steal the three points from the champions.
Victor Valdes VS Christian Abbiati
Goal keepers are the ones with the most difficult job in games, because their position is where the other team wants the ball to go. A keeper can be skilled or lucky enough to save 20 shots in a game and keep a clean sheet, but he can also play brilliantly and his only two lapses in concentration allow exactly two goals from the opposition. Each keeper’s mission is to concede fewer goals than the opposition keeper. These two guys conceded the same number of goals the last time they met and each will be hoping to do better than last time. With Valdes known for keeping clean sheets this season, Abbiati seems to be the one with a tougher mission on paper.
Pep Guardiola VS Massimiliano Allegri
There is a difference between the two coaches and it’s not just their nationalities; Pep has won everything there is to win since he was made first team coach for Barcelona three years ago, collecting 12 major titles in the process and Allegri led Milan to their first league title since 2004 last season in his first year in charge. The Milan coach will not be looking forward to a repeat of last year’s events where his team was eliminated in the second round by new comers Tottenham Hotspur. He will be looking to outsmart the man in the opposing bench; the man who will be trying everything he can this season to be the first to win the cup back-to-back in the competition’s current form. They both will have to remember that a small decision from them can completely change the outcome of the game for the best or the worst.
If you have any other matchups in mind or have anything to say about the ones above, let’s discuss in the comments below in the build-up to hopefully the most exciting game in the group stages so far.
My prediction is 1-3 for the Champions.