Barcelona are in danger of missing out on the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2006/07 after suffering a surprise 2-0 first-leg defeat which has jeopardised their European hopes this season.
To recover from their defeat in Milan will not be an easy feat, in fact Barça will have to make history to progress. No team has ever bounced back from a two-goal loss in the first-leg without having scored an away goal. Despite that defeat to Milan and two painful losses to rivals Real Madrid in the league and cup, confidence is high ahead of tonight’s mission to overturn the reverse.
Former Manchester United defender Gerard Pique believes home advantage can help Barça: “I have a feeling that we can do it.
“I honestly believe that we have the team, the talent and the players to make it to the next round. We're going up against one of the big teams in Europe, AC Milan, who have a long history of winning the Champions League and the Italian league.
Full-back Dani Alves shares his teammate's confidence: “We have spectacular players, so I don't think this tie will be decided until the referee blows the final whistle. We're very confident in our team and the players we have.”
Tito Vilanova's absence whilst undergoing treatment for throat cancer has coincided with a recent dip in form with six wins, three draws and four defeats in the last 13 games. Stand-in coach Jordi Roura is expected to recall Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi after they were all rested in the 2-0 win against Deportivo at the weekend.
The Spanish giants have won 14 titles since 2008, including the Champions League in 2009 and 2011, but are set for a relatively poor trophy haul this season. Barça are currently 13 points clear of fierce rivals Real Madrid in La Liga.
Barça have come back from 3-0 down on three occasions. Their first major comeback was in the Uefa Cup in 1977 against Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town as the Spanish side suffered a 3-0 first-leg loss at Portman Road. Two goals from Dutch and Catalan icon Johan Cruyff helped Barça to a 3-0 second-leg home win before eventually prevailing on penalties.
The Catalans recovered from a 3-0 reverse in Brussels in the 1978-79 Cup-Winners' Cup against Anderlecht to win the second-leg by the same score and eventually triumph on penalties.
Barça once again found themselves 3-0 down from the first-leg, this time in their European Cup semi-final against Gothenburg in 1986 but a Pichi Alonso hat-trick gave them a 3-0 win on the night to level the scores on aggregate before another penalty shoot-out success under manager Terry Venables.
Keeping a clean-sheet will be vital tonight at the Camp Nou but Barça have kept only one clean sheet in their last 14 games.
Xavi has identified some reasons for their recent dip in form: “We have lacked the old movement in attack and the accompanying defensive intensity.”
The deep-lying playmaker is convinced possession and pace will be key: “The speed of our passing should be our weapon. The better it is, the greater our chances.
“We have to attack and score early. We need to stop conceding the free-kicks in wide areas that we are being punished from, and we need to start provoking fouls at the other end of the pitch instead.”
Dani Alves believes Barça need to go back to their high-intensity pressing game: “What has set us apart from other teams in recent years has been our ability to pressure. We had lost that a bit, but now we are getting it back.”
Iniesta has called for a confident approach tonight: “We have an adverse result, it's not good, obviously, but our mentality and our conviction needs to be that we can turn it around.”
He added: “We have to play this match as it if was a final. That's what our mentality needs to be from the first minute to the last.”
Barcelona 4-3-3: Valdes, Alba, Pique, Puyol, Dani Alves; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis Sanchez, Messi, Pedro
AC Milan 4-3-3: Abbiati, Constant, Mexes, Zapata, Abate, Muntari, Ambrosini, Montolivo; Boateng, Niang, El Shaarawy
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