Ibrahimovic urges Milan not to fear Barcelona
Ex-Barça forward desperate to prove a point against his former club at San Siro tonight
With most fans keeping an eye on Lionel Messi, it will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is out to prove something when Milan host defending champions Barcelona tonight in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
The Sweden international spent an unhappy season at Barcelona before heading to Milan after falling out with coach Pep Guardiola and several of his team-mates. But on Saturday, he scored his 29th goal of the season in Milan's 2-1 win over Roma.
Ibrahimovic was inevitably asked about his relationship with Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola following his acrimonious departure from the Nou Camp 18 months ago.
"Will I extend my hand to Guardiola? I don't know, we've other things to think about. It's not a big problem, I'll do my thing and he'll do his," he said. "There's no time to think about the past."
In the Champions League, Ibrahimovic has scored five goals in six games. Messi, however, scored that amount of goals in his last Champions League game, a 7-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
"If we want to win titles, we have to win these sort of games," Ibrahimovic said. "We have to think about stopping all the Barcelona players, not only Messi. As they will have to stop all the Milan players, not just me."
Milan's vice president Adriano Galliani said. "It will be a great match. Milan has been used to these kind of matches for so many years and I'm happy when Milan fights."
Barcelona,who have won the competition twice in the past three years, are favourites to go through, although they face a stern test against Milan, who lead Serie A and have four European Cups to their name.
Milan were hit by a late blow when defender Thiago Silva limped out of Saturday's win. The Brazilian will miss both legs of the quarter-final.
The two clubs have already met in the Champions League this season, in the group stage, with Milan drawing 2-2 at the Camp Nou – thanks to a late equaliser from Thiago Silva – and losing 3-2 at home when both teams were already qualified for the knockout stages.
"We matched them," Galliani said. "All in all we drew 4-4, and then there was the dubious penalty for Barcelona. We're not very lucky in the draws, but neither is Barça."
Milan should welcome back Maxi Lopez and Robinho after the pair missed the weekend's match with injury. However, fellow strikers Antonio Cassano, Filippo Inzaghi and Alexandre Pato are still out.
Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes feels that will have little impact on the outcome.
"It's a good moment [to play them] but they are always a dangerous team," Valdes said. "We saw it in the group phase and they are in good form now. They have some injuries but historically they have always been there in Europe and they have enough important players to replace the injured.
"When you've already met in the group phase it can complicate things, like what happened the year we faced Inter Milan. Let's hope the story changes this time and that the matchup comes out in our favour. Despite their injury problems, Milan is a great team with players who are very motivated at this moment."
Barcelona have injury problems of their own. Brazilian utility player Adriano is sidelined and, although Ibrahim Afellay will travel to Milan, the Dutch midfielder is a doubt as he prepares to return six months after having knee surgery.
Milan have discarded the possibility of adopting a defensive approach tonight. Milan's city rivals Inter Milan, at the time led by Jose Mourinho, managed to beat Barcelona over two legs two seasons ago with the help of ultra-cautious tactics but Allegri implied that was not his team's style.
"It's difficult for us to play a match in the style of Mourinho's Inter, they were a more physical side," Allegri said.
"We will face Barcelona with courage, motivation and serenity. We have to try and make as few mistakes as possible and play with an attacking mentality."
Allegri suggested that striker Robinho, who has been out of action for two weeks with an ankle injury, could be fit in time to start the game but said that right-back Ignazio Abate – a key player throughout the season – had been ruled out.
"We will have to evaluate the condition of Robinho, but we also have Maxi Lopez and Stephan El Shaarawy," he said.
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