27th March 2012
Both sides probably rued their luck when they heard the name of their opponents in the quarter-finals, but the same cannot be said about football fans, who are relishing the opportunity to see two more clashes between AC Milan and Barcelona. The Catalans picked up four points from the two group games against the Rossoneri and that can give them confidence before the trip to San Siro.
Domestic and European success of arch rivals Inter provoked Milan chiefs into action some two years ago and the Rossoneri embarked on a project designed to help the club return to the right track. Nobody was surprised to see the club spend substantial amounts of cash in the transfer market, but instant success under inexperienced boss Max Allegri did turn a couple of heads. After winning the Serie A title last term, Milan experienced some problems at the start of the new season, but they quickly learned to cope with everything thrown their way and the team have been absolutely brilliant in the second part of the season. Some impressive performances on domestic stage saw the Rossoneri create a four-point cushion at the Serie A summit, whereas they managed to reach the Champions League quarter-finals even if they suffered a real scare in the return leg against Arsenal. Good showings in Coppa Italia semi-final against Juventus and league victory over Roma further improved the atmosphere in the squad, which appears to be at an all time high now that Alessandro Nesta, Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng are back in contention. Mark van Bommel misses out through suspension, while Alexandre Pato, Alexander Merkel, Thiago Silva, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi, Antonio Cassano and Mathieu Flamini are all unavailable.
This season hasn’t started well for Barcelona as several La Liga slip-ups allowed Real Madrid to create a big advantage at the top of the standings, but Pep Guardiola’s side are slowly returning to the right track. The 10-2 aggregate win over Bayer Leverkusen showed everyone why Barca are still a force to be reckoned in European football, whereas the run of nine consecutive victories in all competitions hinted that the Catalans are not yet ready to give up on the Champions League and La Liga titles. Having outplayed Milan in both group games, Barcelona have got to be considered favourites to go through, although they could face a difficult job in the first leg at San Siro seeing their opponents appear to be in great form at the moment. In the absence of Adriano Correia and Eric Abidal, Carles Puyol is expected to start at left-back, with Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano set to form a defensive partnership. Ibrahim Afellay is unlikely to be in contention even though he has traveled with the squad, whereas David Villa and Andreu Fontas remain long-term casualties.
We saw a total of seven goals in two group games between the two sides, and I expect to see another enthralling encounter. Milan are high on confidence following several scintillating performances on domestic stage, whereas Barcelona are searching for their tenth successive victory, so backing both teams to score looks like the right thing to do.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best Odds: 8/11