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UEFA Champions League Preview: FC Barcelona vs. AC Milan

Those were the times...
Those were the times...

The last weekend hasn’t been very kind to either, FC Barcelona and AC Milan. The reigning champions of their respective leagues have both drew, coincidentally, 2-2. FC Barcelona, however, blew a two-goal lead and has also lost Alexis Sanchez to injury. Their Champions League opponents on the other hand have opted to not register Filippo Inzaghi for the prestigious tournament. In his absence, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, certified big-game flop and perennial Champions League underperformer, is expected to lead the line against his former employers. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to make of the Serie A outfit. Italian football is hard to evaluate these days. Apart from the two Milanese clubs, Calcio-based sides have rather underperformed in Europe. Some suggest that Italy hosts the most unpredictable domestic league in Europe, but while that might be true, it is also undeniable that Calcio has seen better days. The summer of 2011 has seen Serie A two of its brightest stars leave for pastures new, Alexis Sanchez and Javier Pastore. Maybe it’s just a perception of mine but I do believe that Serie A serves as well-respected retirement home and haven for free-agents. The biggest star of the Italian league is undoubtedly the aforementioned, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If the volatile Swede is the best a league can boast, something is clearly wrong. Serie A is just not the place for young and exciting talent, or at least the Italian sides cannot hold onto them. The only notable exception I can think of AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato. Speaking of the youngster, Shehryar Khan had this to say about AC Milan and Pato:

"Milan have a talented squad with a number of players capable of turning the heat on Barcelona. I think Pato could be very dangerous on the counter, and he'd be a threat going into the game with that fragile looking defense. Liverpool flop Alberto Aquilani is probably going to make the starting XI and so would Robinho who're both very good going forward. Not sure if Genaro Gattuso would get a place but if he does, expect Lionel Messi to be injured for a few weeks."

Inder Methil adds "…anything short of a 2-0 win will be considered a disappointment of sorts, in my opinion."

Hmm, okay. But what about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, can he score a goal against his ex-team? "Perhaps, I'd say yes especially if Sergio Busquets or Andreu Fontas feature in central defense", Jose A. And while Jose believes that Ibracadabra can overcome his big-game nerves, Paul Udani and Inder, do not. "Ibrahimovic loves to disappear in matches of this caliber, expect him to do just that. He always disappears in big matches", Paul Udani. Inder is actually convinced to be in the afterlife long before Ibrahimovic stops underperforming on Europe’s biggest stage "Ibraflop scoring a goal?? "In the Camp Nou? Against FC Barcelona? Pep Guardiol?. In the Champions League? Over our collective dead bodies :P"

I reserve to pass judgment on Serie A’s best player. Zlatan Ibrahimovic non-existent European record is for all to see. But Bostjan Cernensek has said it best "He will give his best as he wants to show Pep what he can do and try to prove a point that selling him was the wrong decision, but history has proven that when Ibra wants to accomplish something really bad he usually fails."

Well, at this point we have pretty much established that Ibrahimovic is AC Milan’s best player, and to an extent Serie A’s. We have also highlighted his absolute inability to perform when it matters most. But how about AC Milan’s chances to win big ol’ ears? "Without Ibrahimovic in the team, of course, but with Ibraflop in the team, they will never compete for the UEFA Champions League. He is like a virus!" Arron Duckling. "They sure are. I'm guessing they'd finish behind Barcelona and hence face a very tough last 16 draw but on their day they're capable of beating any team in the world", Shehryar Khan.

It’s hard to tell whether AC Milan is the real deal or still a team in transition. Their forwards are most definitely world-class, except Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ibraflop is a domestic bully and the partnership of Alessandro Nesto and Thiago Silva is a solid one. However, Milan’s central midfield lacks pace. Since FC Barcelona can be expected to dominate possession, AC Milan’s old-timers simply do not have the legs to chase the ball for 90-odds minutes. Kevin Prince Boateng is an all-action type of midfielder but even he can’t do all the donkey work for Aquilani and/or Clarence Seedorf. The other Dutchman in the team, Mark Van Bommel, and Genaro Gattuso are always just one rash tackle away from being red-carded. At one point or another expect either, or even both, to commit a very nasty tackle. I do wonder what a training session with the duo looks like. Nevertheless, I am hesitant to write off AC Milan just yet. Who knows, maybe Zlatan "big-game flop" Ibrahimovic is going to score a goal. Perhaps the overly physical approach of Gattuso and Van Bommel will reap rewards for Massimilano Allegri’s men. Too many variables to account for, and after Barca’s woeful display against Real Sociedad, I’m not so sure what to expect from the Blaugrana. Nonetheless, if I read Andreu Fontas name on the team sheet I will not watch the game.

Prediction: 3-0 for FC Barcelona without Andreu Fontas; 1-1 with Andreu Fontas

Barcelona vs AC Milan Gamper Trophy 25.08.2010

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