Silvio Berlusconi's younger model AC Milan face ultimate scrutiny from Barcelona in the Champions League

Reshaped Milan side aim to 'sterilise' Catalans at San Siro – and boost president's election aims

For five seasons football's greatest coaches have pondered the almost impossible task of stopping Barcelona. According to Silvio Berlusconi the key is to man-mark Lionel Messi. That was the advice the former Italian prime minister gave his coach Massimo Allegri before Milan's meeting with Barça at San Siro.

The last-16 first leg pits the belle of the ball against the team who were given a huge facelift in the summer, and it had stirred an old penchant for coaching football teams in the 76-year-old businessman and politician – apparently he used to coach his sons' side and they never lost a game.

That Milan facelift has taken years off the side that took on Barcelona twice last season in the group stage of the competition with an average age of 30. Tomorrow it will be put to the strongest possible test.

Eleven players who played in at least one of the two games between the two teams last season were sold by Milan in the summer. Of those who left the club only Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva were under 30 and the team's average age has dropped to 27.

Allegri is unlikely to pay too much attention to his president, who will be in Rome ahead of the upcoming Italian elections, but an ultra-defensive performance to limit Barcelona's away goals tally is highly likely. "Barcelona always end the game with at least 65 per cent of possession – we have to make them sterile", said the Milan coach.

The Barcelona coach, Tito Vilanova, is still in New York receiving medical treatment so his No 2 Jordi Roura will again take his place on the Barcelona bench. For Roura it's a return to the stadium where he tore cruciate ligaments in a 1989 Super Cup match effectively bringing to a premature end his Barcelona playing career.

Barcelona have reached the semi-finals of the competition in each of the last five years and won the trophy twice in that period. Tomorrow Messi reaches another landmark. Fresh from scoring his 37th league goal of the season at the weekend, he plays his 75th Champions League game, just over eight years after making his debut in Donetsk on 7 December 2004. Three European Cups and 56 Champions League goals later the player who has four times finished as top scorer in the competition will be the biggest threat to Milan.

Without the cup-tied Mario Balotelli, Milan will have Stephan El Shaarawy, who has shaken off injury, and Kevin-Prince Boateng playing behind Giampaolo Pazzini. Bojan Krkic, who broke goalscoring records as a youngster at Barcelona before failing to establish himself in the first team and having to move to Italy to further his career, will be asked to make an impact from the bench.

Barcelona left David Villa at home after his kidney stone problems last week. Messi will be flanked by Andres Iniesta and Pedro in attack with Xavi Hernandez returning in midfield after two games out, alongside Cesc Fabregas and Sergi Busquets. Xavi scored a winner in the group game between these sides last season – back before Berlusconi had traded his old Milan in for a younger model.

Kick-off 7.45pm, San Siro

TV Sky Sports 2 Referee C Thomson (Scot)

Odds Milan 5-1. Draw 3-1. Barcelona 8-15.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'