It is everything Pep Guardiola did not want. Milan the opponents, no away goal in last week's first leg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic the jilted striker with a point to prove. While most of Europe takes it for granted that Barcelona will reach the semi-finals of the Champions League tonight there is another altogether less palatable scenario for the holders.
Hell hath no fury like a superstar centre-forward scorned and while Ibrahimovic has at least publicly calmed down almost two years since his departure from Nou Camp, tonight he is back for the first time, knowing his goals will count double and could dump the man he dubbed "the philosopher" out of Europe.
"When I walk into a room and Guardiola is there, he leaves. I don't know if he is scared of me," he said as he was sold to Milan two seasons ago. In his autobiography he also described the Barcelona dressing room as a cult and claimed the Barça coach was intimidated by Jose Mourinho. The words helped sell the book; now the world waits to see if the actions back them up.
He has twice left clubs only for them to win the Champions League the following year. He moved to Barcelona to become a European champion, but while they won the tournament the season before he joined, and again the season after he left, while he was at the club it was Internazionale – the team he had left the previous summer – who were crowned champions.
He was underwhelming in the first leg last Wednesday. The famous Arrigo Sacchi quote that Zlatan is "strong against the weak and weak against the strong" still sticks.
He got 22 goals in 44 games during that solitary season at Barcelona but he had fallen out of favour by the time the season reached its climax. He failed to score in the last four weeks of the run-in as Barcelona won the league and he watched from the sidelines as they were beaten in the Champions League semi-final.
Tonight's mission will be made more difficult by the timely return to form of Gerard Pique, who will be charged with marking him. Pique and Javier Mascherano were so dominant against Milan that the home side failed to muster a single shot in the second half of the first leg. Pique is starting to live up to the "Piquenbauer" nickname again.
"We've missed him," said Guardiola when asked about the renaissance. Now what is needed is for Cesc Fabregas to have the same return to form. His signing was billed as bringing back together the class of 2000. But while Lionel Messi has ploughed on through the record books with another 54 goals this season, Pique suffered a dip in form and, after a flying start, Fabregas, the third of the reunited stars from that fabled under-13s side, has faded. Xavi Hernandez did not train yesterday and with a recurring calf injury remains a doubt. His absence would put an even greater burden on the former Arsenal captain's shoulders.
Guardiola's team has never fallen at the quarter-final stage of a knockout competition. But more heroic throwing themselves in front of goal-bound shots from the likes of Massimo Ambrosini and Luca Antonini and all Milan will need is for someone to stand up and be counted at the other end of the pitch.
Allegri's immediate reaction to the first leg 0-0 was: "There are three possible outcomes now, and two of them suit Milan." Away goals count double and if he scores one himself, no doubt Ibrahimovic will be the first to tell us that his has counted for a whole lot more.Reuse content