Facing Barcelona without fear key to Milan success

Posted by Sumeet Paul

We've heard all the praise and superlatives before - there is no hiding from the fact that to progress in the Champions League, Milan will have to eliminate one of the greatest teams in the history of the game. So what is the key to success? The Rossoneri must take the game to them.

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Having suffered defeat at their hands last year, Barcelona again stand in the way of Milan's progress in Europe. The Spaniards will undoubtedly be strong favourites to repeat their success, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost for Milan, which hosts the first leg Wednesday.

In order to have any chance, the Rossoneri must conjure up a similar spirit and display that saw them defeat Juventus at San Siro in November. With a sold-out San Siro supporting their every move, the first leg will be key and a lead to take to the Camp Nou will most certainly be welcome.

While it is easy to sit back and marvel over the strengths of the Catalans’ game, Milan are very much capable of causing an upset. Despite the absence of the cup-tied Mario Balotelli, this Milan side has been relentlessly resurgent in the past few months, working their way back into contention for a top-three finish.

Yes, the thought of playing Barcelona is daunting. However, by taking the mentality and spirit from their domestic games into this clash, Milan have a chance. It may be a slim one, but nevertheless they must still believe that they can win and focus on what they can do rather than solely going out to stop Barcelona.

There is of course another factor - Lionel Messi.

"A player who scores 90 goals in a year cannot be real. He is from the PlayStation," said Gennaro Gattuso this week, and Messi will certainly need stopping. Milan president Silvio Berlusconi believes he has the solution to stopping the Argentine, saying he must be man-marked. Whatever Massimiliano Allegri decides to do, it will require a stellar effort from all involved.

Vital to Milan’s hopes is Stephan El Shaarawy, who will hopefully be fully fit Wednesday night after being rested for the weekend win over Parma. Suffering with knee problems, El Shaarawy will be given the biggest stage of all to produce and, along with Mbaye Niang, potentially has the pace and skill to cause the Barcelona back-line plenty of problems.

The one thing the Rossoneri must completely eradicate from their game is individual mistakes. Coupled with solid defending from set pieces, they must not sit back and allow Barcelona to dictate the game. It may work for a while, but eventually there is more often than not a breakthrough that follows. With the energy of Kevin-Prince Boateng and possibly Antonio Nocerino working either side of Riccardo Montolivo, the engine room in the midfield will be another integral factor.

The game will provide this new Milan with a big chance to re-establish themselves on the European stage. Granted, a Rossoneri with Balotelli would have provided greater hope, but this is still Milan and it is time for a big performance against Europe’s elite. Forza Milan!

What will be the key to beating Barcelona? How confident are you that Milan can do so?

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