Barcelona vs. AC Milan: Key Battles in Champions League Round of 16 Clash at Camp Nou

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

This week’s Champions League action at the Camp Nou promises to separate the wheat from the chaff, testing whether world-beating Barcelona can overcome the 2-0 deficit suffered in their first-leg meeting with AC Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri’s resurgent Rossoneri  are finally looking more like the Milan of days gone by and are seeking to ride out the storm in Catalan country.

Promising to be the fixture of the European fortnight, Tuesday’s match between two of the continent’s biggest clubs will showcase a gargantuan amount of talent; making those gritty individual contests as important as ever.

With that in mind, here are some of the key battles on the way to victory and progress into the CL quarterfinals for either side.

Dani Alves vs. Stephan El Shaarawy

Two talismanic staples in their respective teams this season, both Dani Alves and Stephan El Shaarawy provide the attacking influence necessary in a match of such importance.

Faced with the challenge of one of Italy’s in-form talents, however, there will most certainly be more of a defensive responsibility for Alves if his opposite man is to be contained. With a goal and two assists in his last four games for Milan, El Shaarawy continues to assert his dominance on Serie A proceedings and would appear to be living up his billing as one of his nation’s most prodigious talents.

In recent years, Alves has become largely recognised as one of the most devastating wing-backs in the world and while the 20-year-old El Shaarawy is not particularly famed for his defensive cover, this duel could prove a major decider in the share of attacking chances.

The Italian provided the assist for a late Sulley Muntari goal in the first leg and should the forward manage to take advantage of an out-of-position Alves, the hosts could be in danger of feeling the youngster’s wrath.

Xavi vs. Riccardo Montolivo

Although still incredibly dangerous in attack, the inevitable burden of age appears to be playing its role in the decline of Barcelona magician, Xavi, who has amassed a below-par total of just five goals and seven assists across all competitions this season.

It is highly likely that Riccardo Montolivo will be the man given the considerable duty of ensuring that Xavi’s effect on Tuesday’s proceedings proves minimal.

Montolivo’s average of 3.1 tackles per game this season (via WhoScored.com) is one of the highest in the AC Milan squad and points toward a player focused more on the defensive side of things.

While his role in Allegri’s engine room will undoubtedly see him dragged into marking other Barça stars, it’s essential that Montolivo contain Xavi to the best of his ability, restricting the Blaugrana’s supply in attack.

Sergio Busquets vs. Kevin-Prince Boateng

Kevin Prince-Boateng has shown just how vital his influence can be to the Rossoneri’s hopes of success of late, grabbing two goals and an assist in his last three outings for the club.

Considering one of those goals came in the reverse fixture—a seized upon chance from 18 yards—it is clear that the Ghanaian has the potential to penetrate Victor Valdes’ goal even if it comes in scrappy fashion.

The most defensively-inclined of Barcelona’s midfield marvels, Sergio Busquets, will be the man most frequently lumped with the responsibility of marking Boateng.

Although Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy assuredly benefit from Boateng’s probes forward, the former Portsmouth star poses a huge threat on Barça’s goal himself and deserves the same respect as any of Milan’s forwards.

Busquets already has a hefty total of 10 yellow cards to his name across all competitions this campaign and will need to be one step ahead of AC Milan’s primary playmaker if he is to stop that tally from rising at the Camp Nou during midweek.

Gerard Pique vs. Giampaolo Pazzini

Despite forming crucial parts of their teams’ line-ups, Gerard Pique and Giampaolo Pazzini have both disappointed in their club duties for portions of this season.

While the odd drop in standards for Pique has contributed to Barcelona’s defensive decline, Pazzini’s inconsistency in attack has sometimes led to Milan’s undoing.

That being said, the visiting frontman has recently entered an excellent run of scoring form and Barça’s hopes of a quarterfinal spot may just rest on whether or not Pique can provide the necessary obstacle to stop the 28-year-old in his tracks.

With seven goals in his last seven games across all competitions, Pazzini has been increasingly important to Allegri’s league hopes. However, an early injury picked up in this weekend’s 2-0 win over Genoa makes the Italian a doubt for the Catalan clash (via Sky Sports).

Apart from the aerial burden lifted by a Pazzini absence, Pique could perhaps look forward to seeing one of Milan’s other attackers played out of position on Tuesday.

Such fortune becomes all the more welcome when one considers just how disappointing the Spaniard’s performance was in the first-leg fixture, a display Pique will want to swiftly forget.

Lionel Messi vs. Philippe Mexes & Cristian Zapata

Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata are Milan’s most frequent centre-back partnership in Europe.

On Tuesday, the pair will one again butt heads with what is essentially the biggest test of their entire season — Lionel Messi — a challenge they coped with well three weeks ago.

Almost unanimously recognised as the world’s best player, it is only natural that double coverage be considered as the necessary solution to dealing with the pint-sized Argentine.

While Milan’s centre-backs will certainly be stretched further than just the one player, a great portion of their night will be concentrated on containing Barcelona’s star striker,  who can flip this tie on its head should he find the space to do so.

1 Comment on "Barcelona vs. AC Milan: Key Battles in Champions League Round of 16 Clash at Camp Nou"

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  1. N3R0 says:

    wrong information for most of these.. Pazzini won't be playing…

    Don't write articles if you don't know what you're saying.

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