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...
Man-mark Messi for the entire game. He is their go-to man, so shut him down. This is a skill Italians excel in.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 9:10pm

Seems like you've been living under rock for a while. They got messi we got pazzini? What bout SES, Niang etc?
on the 19th February, 2013 at 8:52pm
I'd like milan to play with monty and ambrosini just in front of the back four for extra protection. Boa through the middle using his energy to support pazzini and the midfield. SES and niang pick themselfs in the wide positions.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 8:02pm
U can't beat barca unless you can match them four quality. They have messi, Milan have pazzini. That says it all. The only card milan have is to mimic inter. Inter had cambiasso in front of the defence which was so important. Inter crowded the middle of the pitch so barca could only attack from the wings with crosses and because they r elves, they are weak in the box. However that inter team was streets ahead of Milan. Imilan simply do not have what it takes this year. They will get beaten.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 7:34pm
Chelsea didn't have the best defence last season but still manage to pull a win over Barca by counter attacking, some food for thought...

Barca play with 6 midgets in midfield & no strikers, trying to win a midfield battle would be suicidal especially with a 4-3-3 formation. Barca prefer to build rather then counter attack, which makes them predictable.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 7:06pm
Maldini's Heir, I really hope that Abate doesn't get converted into a midfielder. I don't believe that he has the technical skills to play in that position. His passing is poor average as is his final ball. He is best utilized as a full or wing back, because pace is his best attribute.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 6:51pm
Barca's main weakness is that their full backs are not great defenders. They always bomb forwards so hopefully the likes of SES & Niang can hug the lines and exploit the spaces in behind them. A 433 whilst in possession, switching to a 451 without the ball perhaps? Other than Monty, Milan don't have any players that are creative and composed on the ball, so, for me, a counter attacking approach would be best.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 6:38pm
@ mm - I don't know why everyone seems to have a go at Pazzini. Did anybody see his goals against Bologna? These goals were crucial to Milan's post-Christmas revival. While it is great to see Balo playing so well it would be a shame if he crowded out Pazzini. Pazzini has always been underrated. He holds up the ball, keeps things simple outside the box and can score goals in the box. If we can keep him happy then he could be a good foil for Balo and SES with Bojan and Niang on the bench!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 6:37pm
Id say play how Italy did the first game at the euros. 3 man backline that turns into 5. Then simple wait for your chance to counter. It will come. SES should be able to get in behind the fullbacks as they are always very far up.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 6:34pm
One of the downsides of Milan's upsurge in form over the past 15 games has been a lack of pressing. they tend to only engage the opposition when the opposition is nearly a third up the pitch. due to this, I doubt that Allegri will change his plans and go for all out pressing. Milan need to defend well centrally and narrow the space between defense and midfield, whilst looking to make the most of counter attacks and mistakes by Barcelona when in possession. also need to make set pieces count.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 6:01pm

Forgot to add, Flamini since De jong's absence has stepped up very well and been solid last couple of month. You sure your watching the same Milan as us?
on the 19th February, 2013 at 5:47pm

Good thing is neither of the players you mentioned usually starts for Milan, so in other words. It looks promising..
on the 19th February, 2013 at 5:35pm
Milans problems are bonera, ambrosini, pazzini. Bonera is to put it nicely terrible at best, ambrosini is slow with no vision for passing and 1 of the most useless shots in the team and pazzini is beyond words my 100 year old nan is more use in front goal than him. Flamini useless, mexes slow, abate is good but should be played In midfield or right wing. Boetang has allowed fame to go to his head and has become better in his mind than he actually is. Can milan win, im a milan fan n I say no!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 4:17pm
How about not playing Ambrosini and/or Bonera at all!! You have no chance with either one of them!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 3:49pm
Milan has the players to play fast counter attack but i agree inter played cattenacio with very good counter attacking and punished barca..that was a great game and i think Milan should do the same with fast counter attack. And sorry Chelsea was parking the bus and completely clueless..calling them playing cattenacio is a an overstatement.they won bcos they had drogba and barca was stupid in their defending.good luck, forza juve n milan.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 3:25pm
Don't play ambro, or bonera. Play your own way. Use the fact that half of the team are youngsters and capable of running tired less. Parking a buss won't work as our defense is way too weak for that. Rather push up high and destroy their game in mid.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 3:10pm
I would like to see De Sciglio play rather than Constant, De Sciglio hasn't made a mistake since watching him play all season, Constant to me sometimes seems clumsy and makes the odd bad pass and gives away possession. De Sciglio always looks clam and assured and also has good positioning.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 2:00pm
I personally have no advice on how to play Barca!
If you go into this game knowing there is no pressure to advance i would play all out attacking football and try to pressure their players at every opportunity. If you want to progress and preserve a chance of qualification then i would recommend to play deep and counter at every chance.

No matter what i hope Milan wins this one for all of Italy!

Forza Milan!!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 1:55pm
never 4-3-1-2 again, never play Ambrosini again, do what you want after that
on the 19th February, 2013 at 1:41pm
It seems like parking the bus is the only technique that works against Barca. Pressing may seem good, but most teams get punished for it. Milan almost beat Barca by sitting deep (and Chelsea and Celtic actually did it).
on the 19th February, 2013 at 1:40pm
Ac Milan should play like Internazionale did in the first game in 2010 at San Siro...
Press high up and never let Barcelona get setled. And then counterattack. . Whenever a Barcelona player has the ball be on him closely. You will destroy Barcelonas passinggame and then there's nothing. It was the best game played against Barcelona perhaps ever. Don't play like Internazionale did in the returnleg. It's suicide. But Inter managed to hold on to a 0-1 and won alltogether.
But it was a risky game.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 11:24am
Even though I support Juve, I was gutted when the ref gifted Barcelona the second penalty in the second leg of the quarter final.

As for tactics, I'm not sure how Milan play as I don't watch them regulary but one thing for sure, try & play Barca at their own game & you will be punished.

The only way I see how to beat Barca is by using the classic Catenaccio system. Mourinho did it with Inter in 2010 and it worked, Di Matteo did it last with Chelsea & guess what ??? IT WORKS !!!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 11:00am
I have heavy doubts about Ambrosini playing. I rather go with Montolivo, Flamini, Nocerino in the middle. Ambro does very risky tackles and giving freekicks in Messi shooting range will be deadly given Abbiati is more of a liability that an asset on set pieces
on the 19th February, 2013 at 10:55am
Getting a referee assigned by UEFA that isn't a completely biased Barca fan would be a great start for any team about to play Barcelona.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 10:47am
Allegri should feature 3 strikers elshaarawy, Niang and Pazzini. Surpporting Striiker: Bojan. Midfielders: Montolivo, Ambrosini.
on the 19th February, 2013 at 10:00am
I would like to see Boateng play instead of Niang and drift in like he did against Parma. Something like: Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant, Flamini, Ambrosini, Montilivio, Boateng, Pazzini, El Shaarawy. Also during the close season we need to start working on moving Abate into midfield instead of Flamini. Flamini is on a good run of form so might as well stick with him for now but he does lack quality. Abate could really bring some energy to midfield. PS Milan are third! What a weekend!
on the 19th February, 2013 at 9:59am

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