Nou Camp side travel to the San Siro in this battle of the European giants.
Massimiliano Allegri has pledged his AC Milan side will make light of Barcelona’s status as the “best” team in the world when the sides’ meet for the fifth time in two seasons in the Champions League.
Milan have been crowned European champions seven times but are rated as clear underdogs for their last 16 first leg clash against the Spanish giants at the San Siro.
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Milan’s record in seven home games against Barcelona reads: won two, drawn three and lost three.
And the Italians have been eliminated from the competition on the two previous times they have met Barca in the knockout phase: in last season’s quarter-finals and in the semi-finals in 2006.
For Allegri, who narrowly escaped the axe earlier this season while Milan endured their worst ever start to a Serie A campaign, the aura surrounding Barcelona — who won their fourth title in 2011 — is not up for debate.
“Barcelona are currently the strongest team in the world and have some of the best players in the world,” Allegri told reporters at Milan’s Milanello training ground here Tuesday.
But the 55-year-old coach, who has seen his side climb to third place in Serie A after their disastrous start, believes it’s time to break recent tradition
But he acknowledges it will be crucial to curtail Barca’s possession game.
“We’ve had good performances against Barcelona in recent years in the competition but tomorrow (Wednesday) night we have to go on to the pitch believing we can go one better,” he added.
“Barcelona have a very strong midfield and we have to pay special attention to (Lionel) Messi, but it’s not just him we have to worry about. We also have to look out, for example, for (Andres) Iniesta.
“Statistically, Barcelona are a team that — against Milan and Real Madrid — enjoy 65 percent possession, and we have to try and change that.”
Milan will line up without star striker Mario Balotelli, who is cup-tied for the rest of this season’s competition having played in it with former club Manchester City.
It means Allegri is likely to opt for Stephan El Shaarawy, his team’s top scorer this season with 15 goals, as part of the frontline in a 4-3-3 formation likely also to include Kevin Prince Boateng and Giampaolo Pazzini.
Despite complaining of a knee niggle recently, El Shaarwawy is “in the squad… we’ll see how he gets on after today’s training session,” added Allegri.
Whether there is space in the team for former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic remains to be seen, although the indications seem to suggest he could start from the bench.
“He’s not been sidelined. He remains an important player for us,” said the coach.
Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo knows it’s a formidable challenge, but he is confident the Rossoneri can continue their recent form and beat Barca for the first time in the competition since a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp in 2000.
“It’s true that we’re up against the strongest team in the world and some of the best players in the world,” said Montolivo.
“But I also believe we’re playing really well at the moment and can go out there and give them a game.
“It will be a difficult game but we have to go out and give 100 percent from the kick off until the final whistle.”
Assistant coach Jordi Roura is hoping to leave the San Siro stadium with far better memories than he did over 20 years ago when Barcelona face AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
On the strength of their recent performances in Europe against the Spanish giants, seven-times champions Milan go into Wednesday’s clash as clear underdogs.
The Rossoneri’s last win over four-times winners Barcelona in the Champions League was a 2-0 group stage win at the Nou Camp in 2000.
More recently, the Italians have been eliminated from the competition on the two previous times they have met Barca in the knockout phase: in last season’s quarter-finals and in the semi-finals in 2006.
With a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid in La Liga and scoring machine Lionel Messi claiming his 301st goal for Barcelona last weekend, it is difficult to see past a Barcelona victory on Wednesday.
Especially as Milan, who have battled to climb to third place in Italy’s Serie A but are 14 points behind leaders Juventus, are still rebuilding after a huge summer clear-out.
Diplomatically, Roura — who has taken over while Barcelona head coach Tito Vilanova continues his recovery from recent surgery on a tumour — refused to count Massimiliano Allegri’s side out.
“I don’t believe that we are the favourites for this match,” Roura told reporters here Tuesday.
“Milan are always competitive and we’ve always suffered when we came here.
“It makes no sense to designate a favourite. Unless we have a very one-sided match, the tie will be decided in Barcelona in the second leg.”
But the 45-year-old would be forgiven for wishing to leave the San Siro with happier memories than he did 24 years ago.
In 1989 Roura was an aspiring midfielder for Barca when he suffered a serious knee injury playing against Milan in the European Super Cup – an injury that would bring his career to a premature end four years later.
“Obviously, it’s hard for me to forget what happened. I was only 22 years old, and it all but ended my career,” Roura added.
“But 24 years have passed, I’m back with Barca and I’m back at the San Siro which is a great stadium with a great fan base.
“For someone involved in football, it’s always great to come back to a place like this.”
He added: “I understand a lot of our fans want us to overcome this hurdle and make it to the next round.
“But if we do, it certainly won’t be because we underestimated our opponents.”
The veracity of AC Milan’s resurgence in Italy’s Serie A is set to be put to the test when Barcelona visit the San Siro Wednesday for the first leg of a last 16 tie in the Champions League.
After their worst ever start to a league campaign the Rossoneri have climbed to third place and within touch of securing one of the three Champions League places for next year.
However their survival in this year’s competition could depend on a strong showing in Milan ahead of a return to the formidable surroundings of the Nou Camp on March 12.
Although billed, by Milan, as a match between ‘the best of the world’ — Milan are seven-time European champions while Barcelona, four-time winners, are widely considered the strongest team in the world — the Spanish league leaders have the bragging rights.
The last time the two sides met, in last season’s competition, Barcelona came away from the San Siro with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the quarter-final, before winning 3-1 at home to secure a semi-final spot.
Only four months earlier, Barcelona emerged from Milan with a 3-2 win on their way to topping the group ahead of Milan, while in the 2006 semi-finals the Catalans won 1-0 to virtually secure their place in the final.
Since the recent acquisition of striker Mario Balotelli, AC Milan have continued making up for their disastrous start to sit third in the league, 11 points behind leaders Juventus.
But because he played in this season’s competition with Manchester City, Balotelli is Cup-tied for the remaining Champions League fixtures.
That paves the way for the likes of Bojan Krkic, formerly of Barcelona, to step up for a game that will have special emotional significance as well as being a crucial step in Milan’s roller-coaster season.
“It is a different game, a special game for me but I don’t want to think too much about what feelings I have inside, I just want to concentrate on the game and on the 90 minutes of football that awaits us,” Bojan told acmilan.it.
“I have never played against Barcelona before and for that very reason this is more than just a game for me but all I want to do is help the team.”
He added: “We are going through a positive patch at the moment, we have to believe in ourselves.
“We have to try and work hard and go into the match knowing that we are playing in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, against Barcelona, in one of the biggest matches in the world.
“This isn’t a three point match, this is a game over 180 minutes where goals are all-important. We have to score and also not concede. We have to remain focused for the entire 180 minutes.”
Barcelona currently hold a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga in Spain but will travel to Milan without coach Tito Vilanova as he continues treatment in New York to help him recover from a throat cancer operation he underwent before Christmas.
The reins will remain with assistant manager Jordi Roura, who last weekend had occasion to hail star forward Lionel Messi as the Argentine scored a double to take his Barcelona goals tally to beyond the mythical 300 mark.
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