A starry night awaits Champions League as AC Milan host Barcelona on Wednesday night...Though both the clubs have already qualified for the knockout stage, the result of this game will determine which of them finishes at the top of the group. Currently, Barcelona are leading with 10 points, two ahead of Milan.
The onus will be on the Italian club, as a draw will all but guarantee Barcelona a top finish.
Winning the group is an important aspect of Champions League football, as the second placed team potentially has to face stiffer opposition in the round of 16-- which commences in February next year.
When the two sides met at Camp Nou on matchday 1, it had taken Milan less than a minute to open the scoring, and the Rossoneri will be hoping for another blistering start this week.
That game finished two-all, after Thiago Silva popped up with an injury time header.
The game on Wednesday promises to be another entertaining affair, and we look ahead by identifying the key individual battles that could prove crucial to the outcome of the match.
The Swedish striker has always been somewhat of an enigma. His talent is undeniable, but his performances have been inconsistent. But nonetheless, when he is on the field, he is more often than not, the focal point of Milan's attack, and the Barcelona defenders will have to keep a look out for him.
Gerard Pique has been a rock for Barcelona in recent seasons, coping with almost any type of attack. He is solid in defence, has an awareness about him and ability to read the game really well. How well Pique will be able to cope up with Zlatan's movement and trickery could have a major impact on the game.
Boateng, and the other Milan midfielders will need to make sure that they close down Xavi and co, and deny them any time on the ball. The Milan midfield will need to work together to stop Barcelona dominating possession. Boateng has had an impressive season with Milan so far, and has often scored important goals for the club. His 14 minute hat-trick versus Lecce comes to mind, and if given the opportunity, he will bomb into the opposition box to try and nick a goal.
Xavi has been immense for Barcelona over the years, dictating possession and running the game with his excellent vision, and gifted passing ability. He is calm and assured, and his through balls, more often than not find their target, and set up goal scoring opportunities. He has done it for around a decade now, and judging by the way he plays the game, he might be around for a while longer.
Massimo Ambrosini has been at Milan for more than a decade now, and has been hugely impressive over the years. But whether or not the Italian veteran has the legs to stay hot on Fabregas' heels is up for debate. The thing about Barcelona's style of play is that they keep rotating their players, and Ambrosini may have to mark different players at different times in the game.
Since completing his dream move to his boyhood club after years of speculation, Cesc Fabregas has been in sublime form. Before an injury setback, he seemed to have settled in extremely well, and has developed an almost telepathic understanding with Lionel Messi. Fabregas has been simply brilliant so far this season, notching up 7 goals and 5 assists from 14 appearances.
Thiago Silva has been an ever present for Milan, and has been a consistent performer for his side. The last time these two sides met, he got the vital goal in stoppage time to rescue a point for Milan. Perhaps his performance on Wednesday will have the most influence on the result, as his performance might determine how much room Messi gets to set up his shop of tricks.
Lionel Messi has been sharp and slithery, and the Milan defenders will have to be on the top of their game to stop him. Messi, with his brilliant touches, movement, and finishing will be the most important player on the park, and a majority of Barcelona's chances will be either created or finished by him. If Milan want to have any chance of finishing the group in first position, they will need to make sure that Messi has a quiet game. But as we know, that hardly ever happens.
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