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Tuesday February 19 2013
How to face Barcelona

Barcelona arrive again at San Siro on Wednesday. David Swan looks at how Milan could choose to face the Champions League favourites.

For the fifth and sixth time in the space of 18 months, Milan have the ‘pleasure’ of taking on Barcelona in the Champions League. You would have thought the previous meetings with the Spaniards will have given Coach Massimiliano Allegri enough information to formulate a decent plan to have the best possible chance of progression, but such are the differences between this Milan team and last year’s version that he has decisions to make over his approach.

To press or not to press

You have two options when playing Barcelona – press or sit back deep with numbers. Anything in between this and you get crushed – see Real Madrid’s efforts during Jose Mourinho’s first year or so in charge, where their game plan floated in between these ideas, leading to regular beatings.

In the home leg of their quarter-final tie last year, Milan chose the latter option, probably because Allegri was put off the alternative by the 2-3 home defeat in the group stages where the Rossoneri, having already qualified in second, attempted to take the game to Barca and lost.

This team, however, has a little more mobility and pace. The quality has dropped, but the upside is that Allegri could press with a little more success.

The problem is that the vast majority of teams that try to press Barcelona get beat heavily, partly because they tire later on, and partly because they are not particularly well versed in the methodology, which allows some of the best players in Europe to employ their standard passing triangles all the way to the goal. Milan could fall into both categories, so their best chance of success perhaps remains the tried and trusted sit deep in numbers.

4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2

Last year Allegri employed no other system, so the choice was obvious. Now that he has moved Milan away from their long-time stock 4-3-1-2, the selection is not so clear.

The 4-3-1-2 did a reasonable job in the first leg of the quarter-final, where the main aim was not to concede an away goal, because it allowed Milan to crowd the middle of the pitch out with four central midfielders. But for Milan to progress they are going to have win the game at San Siro, which means scoring a goal, and for this purpose it may be less useful.

That is augmented with Kevin-Prince Boateng’s largely abysmal season thus far – an underperforming trequartista is not going to help matters – while a 4-3-3 will at least give full-backs Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba something to think about and poses more of a goal threat if they use three strikers.

Play with three strikers, or use Boateng wide

The composition of a potential 4-3-3 throws up a few questions. Boateng is more than likely going to play, the choice Allegri has is where to use him. He played at trequartista for all four matches in 2011-12 with little variation in his role, but this year has played a number of times in the wide positions.

Silvio Berlusconi wants to see Milan play the tie with three strikers, which would mean Boateng back in midfield where he is best suited. But with a clean sheet so important, Prince playing wide as a more combative and defensively able player is a genuine option, though it would have to be in place of one of the wide forwards, most likely M’Baye Niang assuming Stephan El Shaarawy is fit.

Against Parma he started wide but wandered infield – a deliberate move that may have been in practice for Wednesday’s match. They certainly do not have the quality to match Barcelona man for man, and even Real Madrid have resorted on occasion to the numbers game in the middle in an effort to stay competitive in midfield.

Massimo Ambrosini or Riccardo Montolivo in front of the defence

This should be a simple choice – Ambrosini played this role in both quarter-final games last season and did it very well, though he was a little laboured in the second leg having been forced to play games every three to four days due to injuries in the squad.

It makes more sense to have a defensive minded player against a team with Barca’s attacking potential. It is Montolivo’s handling of the position over the last month or so, while Ambrosini has been injured, that may cause a few doubts. Allegri praised his defensive showing after Friday’s win against Parma, giving special mention to his covering of the full-backs when they went forward.

Both players will play, but their positioning will give an indication as to Allegri’s approach for the game.

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Have your say...
Milan would finish barcelona i love milan and i have big faith in Milan to win. Balotelli is cup tied dosen't mean milan will flop we have EL SHRAWAY lets hope we win.
on the 8th March, 2013 at 8:45pm
I strongly believe in our millan team that missi and his team mate are not treat to millian
on the 8th March, 2013 at 3:13pm
Tevez has been around 10 years longer than SeS and gets in the press for all the wrong reasons and until 3 years ago i didn't really know who Ba was, he's had one good season in an over acheiving Newcastle side... Only people trapped in the English bubble of football where they consider Wayne Rooney to be the savior of England won't have a clue who SeS is..... but they soon will, he's 19 years old and yea there is every chance he could flop later in life but for now he's living up to the hype.
on the 27th February, 2013 at 9:03am
Wayne, ses plays all the time. Tevez and ba don't.

Scoring against a rapidly declining inter team doesn't make you a player with great potential. As i said, he is liked in Italy. Ask any average football fan who ses is and they will shrug their shoulders. Then ask them who tevez is.

Ses will be the next gilardino
on the 26th February, 2013 at 7:13pm
And as i send that Ses has just scored yet another, this time in the derby, i'm glad he's so rubbish ha ha

19 goals and counting, already more prolific than any Tevez season and not far off Ba's 1 off season
on the 24th February, 2013 at 8:09pm
@ BOSS

Sausage fingers ha ha, cheers pal! I'm much worse than that.

"Rvp, ba, tevez r all far better then ses."

I'll give you RVP, he's had two great seasons thus far but at nearly 30 you'd expect it, SeS is barely an adult and we are speaking about his potential, he's already top scorer in his first real shot a serie a.
Ba and Tevez, have you actually looked at their scoring records? I have and i dont know how you can come to the conclusion that they are "much better" if better at all!
on the 24th February, 2013 at 8:07pm
@ Wayne, do u work for all of those clubs as the transfer chief? As i thought, u don't, so keep your sausage fingers away from your keyboard. If any of the clubs you mentioned wanted a Milan player, they could have them. Milan r broke and always want to balance their books. They woul happily sell ses. Rvp, ba, tevez r all far better then ses.
on the 22nd February, 2013 at 6:44pm
ah ses? i remember when serie a tried to make out pato was so great as well when he first joined milan. now they overhype ses. in a few years hell be replaced by the next overhyped guy. the reality is, if a striker is good, u see something special in him right away. its not "wow he has enourmous potential, in 5 years hell be great". so thats it, ses is just an ordinary guy with "potential". give him 2 years, hell be passed around in serie a like gilardino
on the 22nd February, 2013 at 1:38pm
@BOSS

Man United, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea were all inquiring about SES this season, hence the reason for the new 5 year deal.

I'm an English Milan supporter and I find it both shocking and embarrassing how little people know over here about other leagues.
on the 22nd February, 2013 at 11:15am
@viktoria, yes I want to share the news that in 3 weeks milan r going 2 the sacrificial lamb and will swiftly b out. Francesca, no I'm still confident that it is still only the Italians that rate ses. I didnt see hi name on the score sheet.

Rosario, don't cry. I'm a juve supporter. It appears ur another deluded upset serie a fan that can't accept that Italy don't boast any big players anymore, so u try and hype up a guy with a dodgy haircut. Sit down son speak when spoken 2
on the 21st February, 2013 at 8:47pm
@Viktor

Dude chill out !!! We still dont know what happened to Barca they played suck bad, even celtic are more attacking than them hence the result.

Wasnt it Milan played the same tactic as juve ? park the bus ? and seem ure not complaining about that lol

34% possesion for milan, 66% Possession for barca, 6 totals attempts for barca, 2 on target, 4 off target wtf is this !!!

Is this what u called entertain football? hahaha anyway good result for milan & italy, we all wait for 2nd leg.
on the 21st February, 2013 at 3:56am
BOSS is a typical English football fan. absolutely no clue of anything beyond the shores of dover apart from what is fed to him on his sky sports pay tv whilst he sits on his sofa. 'nobody', mainly the british press and barcelona themselves gave Milan a chance. Yet instead of talking or comparing players, the Milan camp just got on with hard work, determination and team spirit, played their game and took home an absolutely fantastic result. Abbiati never needed to make one save on the floor.
on the 21st February, 2013 at 1:51am
Please refer to my comment below in relation to how allegri will approach the game, and what Milan need to do. I believe I was spot on :)
on the 21st February, 2013 at 1:35am
Well done Milan. Your were awesome tonight.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 11:36pm
I am a Juve fan but I celebrated that win like I would if it was Juve. Milan were faultless absolutely faultless and hope they can stay strong for the 2nd leg.

@Boss
I'm guessing the whoel of Europe know who SES is now :-)
on the 20th February, 2013 at 10:04pm
@BOSS

WHATS UP??? Got anything you wanna share??
on the 20th February, 2013 at 9:47pm
@viktoria, I've not been under a rock son. I just don't rate ses or niang. They get respect in Italy and that's it. No1 else on the continent even knows who they are. So viktoria while your sitting there going on like they are great, we shall find out in about an hour how ordinary they r. I'd rather have Gareth bale.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 6:36pm
In the circumstances & without Flamini it should be (4-1-4-1) Abbiati, Abate, Mexes, Zapata, De Sciglio, Yepes, Niang, Montolivo, Boateng, Galliani, Bojan, SES. It pains me to play Yepes but in a Cambiasso role hes maybe not as dangerous as in central defence and Bojan surely has to do something sometime. I also have doubts about Gallianis fitness at 106 but hes certainly preferable to what is left. The 4-1-4-1 system can be very flexible & can suit pressing or counter quite easily.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 5:05pm
Ambrosini reads the game well and is good in the air but has 2 left feet and upsets any passing rhythm. By the time he controls the ball, the opposition have regrouped. Flamini will be missed tonight, Muntari is way out of his depth and David's comments about a mixture of pressing and sitting are spot on. Celtic beat an understrength Barca which shows they can be exploited but Celtic dont have passengers and thats where we will suffer tonight. Man marking Messi is futile mark his zone instead.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 4:45pm
@interizta

That's cute comparing to inters 2010 team... blog is about how to face barca and not how to place a meat wagon in a goal
on the 20th February, 2013 at 3:01pm
In fairness, Messi had a couple weak calls go his way for penalties last year. Let's see if he can score some on the run of play this year. I'd rather see Milan lose that way.

@Interista, sure dude, whatever you say lol..
on the 20th February, 2013 at 1:54pm
Well Balotelli is ineligible to play and with a couple of injuries, things aren't looking too good for Milan.

On a positive note, this Barcelona team doesn't look as formidable as last season, there are cracks that needs to be exploited.

That being said, Barca are still favourites to progress to the next round...
on the 20th February, 2013 at 12:04pm
Dis milan side not have the mental strength to beat barca or the technabilaty..not like mourinho,s inter...forza inter
on the 20th February, 2013 at 11:28am
No way does this Milan team have the mental toughness and heart that Inter did in 2010 when we defeated Barca in the Semi-Final's. Barca will win 4-1 agg
on the 20th February, 2013 at 9:46am
Since we are without De Jong and Flamini not fit, we should use Niang ( put Boateng back in the midfiled ) to add some defensive power into our squad as his and SES' workrate throughout their flanks will help us a lot. Monty/Muntari/Ambrosini can't handle them properly.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 8:33am
In my opinion, Allegri should go with a 5-4-1 (3 centre-backs, 2 wing-backs, 2 defensive midfielder in front of the defence, 2 central midfielders, 1 striker). There is no need for fullbacks in this game as Barca will attack through the middle. The CBs will not roam and will stay in place, the WBs will protect the CBs from any wing threats as well as support the DMs in crowding out the ball out of the middle of the field. The two CMs should be quick and look for the counter down the wings.
on the 20th February, 2013 at 8:17am
Allegri should play 4-3-3. But I agree that Boateng is better suited on the wing. Niang has great skill and speed and should be able to play instead of Pazzini in the centre of the top three, flanked by Elsharaawy and Boateng. Montolivio, Ambro and Flamini should take the midfield. Flamini has a better passing game then Nocerino and better defensively. but will allegri have the balls to play Niang as the striker??
on the 20th February, 2013 at 6:51am
will the ref be wearing a barca shirt?

they usually do!

oh where are the high quality refs like collina? now, that guy was class...
on the 20th February, 2013 at 12:18am
This encounter should have been avoided by winning an easy group. The best Milan can hope for is to be competitive and make a contest of it and if Barcelona have an off day who knows. I'd give them maybe a 5% chance of progressing, but no better. Milan's defensive frailties could be badly exposed in this game, I'm worried about what could happen particularly in the second leg if Barca have their tails up.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 11:46pm
Abbiati, Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Constant, Montolivo, Boateng, Muntari/Traore, Niang, Pazzini, El Shaarawy.

Front three MUST press Barca's defence and limit their time on the ball.

Boateng MUST man mark Xavi he is the man that gets them ticking, Boateng is physically stronger than Xavi and has the energy to mark him closely.

Full Backs MUST stay tight to our centre backs.

And finally, hope everyone is on their A game and that Messi has an off day.

FORZA MILAN!!!!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 9:27pm

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