- Barcelona v AC Milan, Champions League
Barcelona planning shock tactics for Milan
Barcelona face a huge task in Tuesday night's Champions League last-16 clash with AC Milan as they aim to become the first team ever to overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit since the competition's format changed in 1992.
The Camp Nou is expected to host a thrilling encounter as Barcelona, who collapsed at the San Siro three weeks ago, look to advance through to the quarter-finals in a bid to claim their fifth Champions League title.
Milan, who expertly thwarted Lionel Messi and Co with a defensive masterclass in the first-leg, are expected to come under relentless pressure as reports from Spain hint towards a more fluid, attacking setup for the home side.
Some in Catalonia have suggested that, with Barca needing to score at least twice to progress, manager Tito Vilanova and his assistant Jordi Roura could decide on a three-man back-line, with captain Carles Puyol left on the bench.
Asked about the different tactical options available at Monday's pre-game press conference, Roura suggested the team could change shape mid-game if the situation required it, while centre-half Gerard Pique said there were pros and cons to playing a three-man defence.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to playing with three at the back," Pique said. "It is a decision for Tito and Jordi. We are used to playing one way or the other. With 3-4-3 we are more attacking, but we suffer more at the back. With 4-3-3 we control the game better, but we lack that (No. 10) mediapunta. We will see."
Former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi said in a webchat with El Pais readers on Monday that Barca's main problem looked physical rather tactical.
"Barca have a problem," Sacchi said. "The team seems tired, without energy. Playing in a league so uncompetitive, they are unprepared. One player (Messi) cannot decide everything - it must be the team. Barca are playing very slow football. They hardly press their opponents or make runs off the ball. They all want the ball to feet. Nevertheless, I do not believe they need to change their style to put in a forward."
Huge words from Saachi for a huge occasion, but one thing is for sure: Barcelona will not go down without a fight.
Barca have suffered an indifferent spell of late, with three victories and three defeats in their last six games. Consistency has been a short-term problem with Vilanova's side twice losing to rivals Real Madrid in the space of a week. However, they have not lost a home Champions League tie since October 2009.
Meanwhile, Milan have been quite the opposite. Unbeaten in their last six matches, with four wins and two draws, the Rossoneri have seemingly profited from their defeat of Barca with a draw away to Inter, an impressive home win over Lazio and an away scalp of Genoa; away from the San Siro, Milan are beginning to look every bit as imperious as they do at home.
With playmaker Xavi Hernandez looking certain to return from his recent hamstring problem, it had looked like the only selection decision for coach Vilanova and assistant Roura was whether to start Cesc Fabregas or Alexis Sanchez, with Andres Iniesta then playing either on the wing or in midfield.
Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta were all rested for parts of Saturday's 2-0 victory over Deportivo.
Milan striker Giampaolo Pazzini, who has scored nine goals in his last 11 games, misses out with a micro-fracture to his right fibula.
Mario Balotelli is ineligible since moving from Manchester City, but Philippe Mexes and Kevin-Prince Boateng are expected to start despite carrying small knocks.
One to watch
While the headlines have concentrated on Messi, Milan possess a huge danger in Stephan El Shaarwary. He was a constant threat at the San Siro and with Barcelona set to attack, the youngster could prove a major outlet on the counter attack.
With Barca set to unleash every arsenal in their attack, the key focus will be how the Milan backline will cope with the home side. Christian Abbiati is the last line of defence but will have the likes of Ignazio Abate, Philippe Mexes and Christian Zapata ahead of him; it is paramount that the Milan defence replicates the standard of performance seen in the first leg if they are to advance.
Prediction and bet
With Barca's superb home Champions League record in mind, the stats point to a home win; although the urgency in attack to make up the deficit will signify gaps in the defence, particularly if the Catalonian side play with a three-man backline.
Milan have proved they are dangerous on the counter-attack; a 3-1 Barca win (the same outcome the last time these two giants met at the Camp Nou) is a tempting prospect. Bet 365 are offering 9/1 on that scoreline with a half time/full time bet of Draw/Barcelona at 3/1 also appealing.
Final Score: 3-1 (3-3 on aggregate, Milan go through on away goals)