By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
“It would be good if AC Milan could go as far as possible,” Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said in the week, talking about the Rossoneri’s Champions League challenge, “especially at a moment when the deficit in the Uefa club ranking is so big.”
Co-efficients aside, the Bianconeri could do with their title rivals tying their midweeks up for a while yet after the latest preoccupied performance by the champions against Catania at the Massimino on Saturday allowed Juve back into the Serie A title race.
For the third time in four fixtures, Milan prepared for a meeting with Barcelona by dropping points in the league, strengthening the opinions of many that the Rossoneri could struggle to hold on to their crown the further they go in Europe.
But it’s Barca in particular who have seemingly given the Diavolo the most to stress about. Six wins from six have preceded their other Champions League fixtures, but only Roma have been beaten ahead of a clash with the Catalans – and that came late in the day last week after a lethargic opening hour. The bigger nights clearly provide a bigger distraction.
They were never going to be about to get away with taking Catania lightly. The Elefanti have become well known for their magnificent home record in the six seasons since they gained promotion from Serie B, and this term under Vincenzo Montella they have only become more resolute.
|BARCA ON THE MIND
Milan's pre-Champions League results
The Rossoneri got off to the right kind of start, playing at their own pace early on, and fashioning chances for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Urby Emanuelson. Even Robinho was back on form, and the Brazilian played a neat first-time pass to Ibra, made a clever run to take the return ball, and then wrong-footed Juan Pablo Carrizo to fire Milan ahead.
But Alejandro Gomez had shown with a couple of stinging shots - one of which thundered off the bar - that Catania still had a threat to offer, and a more lacklustre approach from Milan in the second half was suitably punished.
First Gomez found the net with an excellent header only to be denied by the offside flag, with Gonzalo Bergessio having strayed before flicking on to the winger. Then Nicolas Spolli turned the ball home after the Milan back line completely switched off at a corner.
It was the least the home side deserved in the midst of a 15-minute spell in which they caused Massimiliano Allegri’s men all sorts of trouble.
Robinho continued to cause trouble though, and very nearly put the Rossoneri back in front when rounding Carrizo, only to be denied right on the line by a magnificent clearance from Giovanni Marchese. Philippe Mexes had a header well saved by the keeper and Ibrahimovic slid a shot across the face of goal, but it would have been harsh on Montella’s side.
Mariano Izco could even have won it for the Sicilians during injury time, only to be denied by a block by Luca Antonini. It wasn’t the full-back’s first vital intervention of the week, nor of the match, and nobody has impressed more in the past few days for Milan than the 29-year-old.
Other more obvious stars have been less prevalent, with Ibrahimovic never looking likely to match his feat against Roma last weekend. There was much less control about the midfield too, with the half-paced Alberto Aquilani, Massimo Ambrosini and Antonio Nocerino being given the run-around by Mariano Izco and Sergio Almiron. While Milan attempted to coast the second half, Catania were full of energy.
But the draw gives Juve a great chance to close the gap at the top of Serie A to two points with a win over Napoli on Sunday evening at Juventus Stadium, with their recent form having looked a little more promising. Just when it appeared that Milan may be ploughing on to a 19th title, there’s a window open once more for the Bianconeri.
The champions remain the favourites, not least because Juventus have slipped up 14 times already this term. But while Tuesday night in Catalunya could be one of the great nights in Milan’s esteemed history on the continent, it could also be divisive in their bid to retain their league crown.
Chiellini and his colleagues have more than one reason to cheer on the Rossoneri on Tuesday.Follow Kris Voakes on