Soccer

Champions League: Barcelona vs. AC Milan, Galatasaray's Grand Experiment

Barcelona vs. AC Milan

Barcelona are Barcelona. They are cruising in the Primera Liga, with 21 wins in 24 matches, a 12-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid and a +53 goal difference. Lionel Messi, with 46 goals in 36 appearances in all competitions, remains the world’s best player. There are some causes for concern though. Since Dec. 1 Barcelona’s defense has been slacking, conceding goals in 10 of their last 11 league fixtures. They have also been extremely reliant on Messi going forward. He has 35 goals in the league this season. No one else has more than six.

The Rossoneri were in for a lean year. The old guard cleared out. AC Milan sold their two world-class stars, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG. The present squad is young and decent, though hardly as star-studded as past seasons. The club has gone undefeated winning five of seven in 2013, propelling them to the third-place on goal difference. Milan have had trouble scoring, netting just seven goals in six group stage matches. They found the answer for that in Serie A, signing Mario Balotelli who has scored four times in three matches. Unfortunately, he is cup-tied, having already appeared for Man City.

These teams met four times in the Champions League last season. Bizarrely, Milan drew both road matches and lost the two matches played in the San Siro. Barcelona are not infallible. It’s possible Milan could hold out for a draw in one leg, but unless they discover Messi’s weakness it is hard to see them going through. Maybe Silvio has the answer?

Schalke vs. Galatasaray

This match will feature Galatasaray’s grand experiment. The Turkish club sought reinforcements in January. They signed pricey ones in Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba. Those guys are stars, but they are also stars who relish performing on this stage. Drogba was man of the match for Chelsea in last year’s final. Sneijder was man of the match for Inter Milan in the 2010 Final. Schalke have had a rough season. They sit ninth in the Bundesliga, 27 points behind leaders Bayern Munich. They have just one win in 11 matches since Nov. 10.

[Photo via Getty]

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