Match Preview: Tuesday 18/04/2006 20:45 (GMT+2): Champions League 1st Leg
AC Milan – FC Barcelona
San Siro, Milano – capacity: 83.000
Referee: Alain Sars (France)
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Váldes – Oleguer, Puyol, Marquez, Gio (Sylvinho) – Van Bommel, Edmilson, Iniesta, - Giuly , Eto'o, Ronaldinho – Manager: Frank Rijkaard
Ac Milan: Dida - Cafu, Kaladze, Nesta, Maldini - Gatusso, Pirlo, Seedorf, Kaka - Shevchenko, Gilardino - Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
Tonight´s “big match” in the Champions League semifinal will probably show Europe´s finest in form teams and would be worth a final in Paris. At the moment, FC Barcelona and Milan are the two teams in Europe that show the best football and everybody expects two beautiful matches with quality football. Milan seem to peak at the right time, going into the game on the back of Friday's 1-0 Milan derby triumph against Inter and cutting the margin of leader Juventus to five points. With four matches to go, Milan is up for a surprise of stealing the “Scudetto” of Juventus Turin.
Carlo Ancelotti's AC Milan has one advantage over FC Barcelona - they have more experience of playing in European semi finals lately. Milan beat Juventus to the title in 2003 and were runners-up to Liverpool last season. Many of those experienced Milan players will play against Barca. It is the third Champions League semi-final in four years and Milan is used to these type of matches while Barcelona are not.
The reigning and most likely new Spanish Champion FC Barcelona have looked in formidable form over the last 18 months. Barça travel to the San Siro for the first leg holding an 11-point lead at the top of the Primera Liga and having swept aside English champions and lonely leader Chelsea and Portuguese giants Benfica on their way to the semi finals of this year´s Champions League competition. Barça did not loose one game and also showed great performances in the “big matches” against Chelsea and Benfica while Milan showed more problems against their opponents. FC Barcelona has got the “World Player of the Year” in their side,Ronaldinho, who can decide a match on his own, as he showed in his stunning performance against Chelsea at Camp Nou. They also have three times winner of the “African Player of the Year” Award Eto´o who scored already 24 goals this seasson.
Today, the past should not be considered and counts for little when the teams step out onto the pitch this evening. All that matters is what happens on the field. Both teams will set about trying to win the leg, of that there is no doubt. FC Barcelona´s attacking style does not allow to settle for a draw or even a loss. Barça will go out to win. A win for Milan without Barça scoring would be the worst result for Barcelona coach Rijkaard. On the other hand, Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti will be worried about Barcelona getting some sort of result that will force Milan to come at Barça in the second leg.
The Barcelona Attack:
With Leo Messi and Henrik Larsson out, the attacking line will start with Guily (right), Eto'o (centre) and Ronaldinho (left).
Ronaldinho, being rested will be absolutely delighted to show his perfect skills in this match.
He is up for the big show and is the one player who can decide this semi final just on his own. Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti revealed that Barca's Brazilian sensation Ronaldinho will not be man-marked during the game, something which Ronaldinho will be happy to hear and may be a tactical mistake that Milan have to pay for dearly.
The Barcelona Midfield:
The creative midfield department causes a few problems for Barca coach Rijkaard. Xavi is still out for another 2 weeks and Deco is suspended due to a yellow card against Benfica. Rijkaard will probably field Edmilson as anchor and Iniesta as replacement for creative Deco while Van Bommel will take over the hard working part. Barcelona´s Van Bommel and Iniesta have shown great performances. Van Bommel has still a point to prove following last year's defeat with PSV.
The Barcelona Defence:
If Rijkaard does decide to risk Mexican defender Rafael Marquez despite his lack of action he will field Oleguer (right), Marquez and Puyol (both central), Gio as the back four. Belletti and Sylvinho with their Brazilian attacking style will be saved probably for the home match at Camp Nou.
The Milan Attack:
Milan inform striker Filippo Inzaghi is out.
Milan´s star striker Ukrainian Andrei Schevchenko, leading scorer in the present Uefa Champions League season with nine goals will be joined in attack by Italian international Alberto Gilardino, one of the highest profile signings in Italian football last summer. Despite scoring 16 goals in Serie A he has yet to open his European Campions League goalscoring account .
The Milan Midfield:
The Milan midfield is full of strength and creativity and has an impressive balance of physical power and creative technique. Pirlo will play in the middle the defensive part and organize the Milan game. Gattuso, as we know him, will fiercely guarde the Milan defence and Seedorf will work and provide more creative options through the centre and on the left side of the field. The offensive danger will be supplied by Kaká. The young Brazilian international is one of the best in the world in his position, along with brazilian team mate Ronaldinho playing on the other side.
The Milan Defence:
Milan´s is extraordinarily experienced with several players playing at the highest level for two decades. 4 of 6 possible defenders are over 35 years old: Costacurta (40 next week), Maldini (37), Cafú and Staam (both 35). The other two regular defenders are Kaladze and Nesta, who are 28 and 30 respectively. Milan coach Ancelotti will most likely start with Cafu, Nesta, Kaladze and Maldini. Interesting will be, how Milan will solve the problem “Ronaldinho”. Cafu being more a winger than a defender, Ancelotti will go for zonal marking against Ronaldinho, thereby relieving Cafu of some of the marking responsibility with Gattuso helping out in this department. Maldini will use his experience against Guily's pace, with Nesta man marking Barça top scorer Eto'o.
Our Prediction: Overall, FC Barcelona have been doing much better than AC Milan this season, in the domestic Championship as well as Champions League. But FC Barcelona has to be at its best to win at San Siro. Milan´s form is peaking and we can not doubt the experience. But experience could also mean too old. We suppose that Ronaldinho, Eto´o and Giuly will give the “old guard” a run for their money. We are convinced that the Barca team is totally focused and had the advantage to concentrate on this important match due to the fact that the championship title is nearly won. We think Barça can repeat the performance at Stamford Bridge. Whatever the result will be, the semi final will be decided in the second leg at Camp Nou in Barcelona.
AC Milan 0 – Barcelona 1
Visca el Barça!