After about a month and a half Barca Blaugranes was once again given the opportunity to interview the excellent people over at FOX Sports. On hand to offer expert opinion were former USMNT legendary strikers Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride who took time out of their busy schedules to answer questions about the upcoming Champions League FC Barcelona - AC Milan clash.
BB: With these two teams meeting so often (this will be the eighth encounter in the past three seasons), does it give one team or another an advantage?
EW: I actually think the complexion of AC Milan has changed so much that it really isn't as much of an advantage to either team. You know what you're up against with Barcelona, but with Neymar now it's a whole different component. It's a new weapon and it's definitely making things tricky for all of Barcelona's opponents.
BB: Barcelona played the majority of the first meeting between the two sides with a three man backline - a very aggressive tactic. Do you think Tata Martino will try to beat the Italian side using the same tactic or will he field his team in a more conservative, but very successful, 4-3-3 formation?
EW: I think one of the things about Barcelona is they have better situational awareness than any other team, regardless who their manager is, they have proven that over the last couple years. They will play the game they're in. I think they might come out conservative, but their ability to switch to three on the fly is what makes them a little bit more special than other teams. But the fact that AC Milan has been so bad, and lacking confidence, that might be another determining factor.
BB: It's been just a couple weeks since the teams last met. What changes can the two managers make to tip the scale in their team's favor?
BM: I think things are starting to click better offensively for Barça as far as the integration of Neymar, and Messi looks to be healthy. I think for Barcelona it's just continued to go. It's been a progression forward for them, because they're making changes at the same time. It doesn't always look like the old free-flowing Barcelona - possession for fun - there's actually more purpose to it. There seem to be growing pains it that, but all in all they're on a pretty positive side of this new implementation.
And Milan, they've struggled. They've lost every game since, a four game slide. Mario Balotelli hasn't really found his way, I think they're missing [Stephan] El Shaarawy, offensively they have struggled to score goals. Team commitment, I'm sure, it's going to be there, but they need to get out and Balotelli will be a big part of that.
BB: Speaking of Balotelli, he hasn't scored in over a month - and picked up his seventh yellow card of the season on Saturday attracting criticism from the Milanisti; which Balotelli do you think we'll see at the Camp Nou: the powerful goal-scorer that started the season, or this divisive and often petulant striker that we've seen in recent weeks?
BM: The biggest thing to me when I see Balotelli play is if he is in his zone, as far as mentally on top his game and not worrying about all the stuff that's going on around him. Like players checking on, you know, the troubles that he's had recently. If he is able to get by that, or able to find the flow of the game pretty quickly I think we'll see a very important and very solid Balotelli. Do I think that's the way it's going to be? I don't think so.
The way he struggled so far, in the game on the weekend Fiorentina was kicking him, they were getting into him early, and it really unsettled him. It got him out of his game, he started doing the silly stuff that really doesn't help not only himself, but his teammates. That's the side of Balotelli you get. I think he has a tenancy to make it more about himself than the team, but if you can get him to [stick around] he definitely has the talent, but it's just a big if for me.
BB: Having guided the Rossoneri to just one win in their last seven matches, is Max Allegri's position significant pressure? The club's UEFA Champions League standing is considered to be one of his few saving graces. Will this pressure force Milan into a more defensive approach on Wednesday, or will it give Allegri the freedom to try a more attack-minded formation?
EW: Absolutely, I mean, there was a lot of speculation that he might already have been without a job after the weekend. I think it's unfair to lose to Barcelona and lose your job, because more people lose to Barcelona than they beat them. But certainly one out of seven is not good, the team is just finding it very difficult to get along. I'm not going to blame Balotelli for that kind of thing, but it's certainly, as a team that when you start relying on the wrong people the results might not come.
I think they will be nervous, I think they would love to have a different frame of mind coming into this game. History will tell you that they have come across each other more than any other big name teams in this competitions, so they are used to playing against each other. But I think they will be very cautious, and it's just not a situation we're used to seeing AC Milan being.
BB: Alexis Sanchez has been like a new player in this season. Who can we credit with his turnaround in form: the new management, or does this mean that he has (finally) adapted to Barcelona's playing style?
BM: Well, I think, with the addition of Neymar he's been freed to run onto balls more, rather then when Messi would get it [Alexis] would actually have to stay wide a lot of times. Now he's able to do what he does best. In the past he's been more part of the build-up, now it just seems to me that he knows when he gets the ball, give it to Messi or somebody around him and make the runs from outside in.
You could see on the weekend on his goal, he knew what Neymar was going to do, and he needed to pinch in to the back post and he gets a tap in. I think part of that is the understanding of the team and everything else, but I also think it's his soccer brain and how the team now shapes up better for him with Neymar in there. He definitely doesn't have to try and do as much as he had to in the past.
We would like to thank everybody at FOX Sports that helped facilitate this collaboration, with a special thanks going to Brian and Eric for their expert insight. For more analysis tune into their FOX Sports 1 coverage beginning at 2:30 pm ET and be sure to visit Barca Blaugranes for in-game discussions as well as post match coverage.