Stephen El Shaarawy has scored twice in this season's UEFA Champions League. Image courtesy of skysports.com
AC Milan was probably the luckiest of all qualifiers for the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League, and almost as though its punishment for their chequered passage to the last 16, the Italian giants were drawn to face tournament favourite Barcelona .
The Catalan club brought Milan’s Champions League run to a screeching halt last season in the quarter-finals when two first-half penalties to Lionel Messi gave Barca the impetus to run out 3-1 winners. The Italians were incensed at the awarding of the second spot kick, and they will want revenge on Thursday morning (AEDT). Massimiliano Allegri’s team held the Spaniards to a scoreless draw at the San Siro last season, but in the group stage earlier last season, Barcelona escaped with a 3-2 win in Milan thanks to Xavi Hernandez’s winner. The veteran may miss this week’s encounter, though, after suffering a hamstring injury.
The Rossoneri will be without striker Mario Balotelli as he is cup-tied to Manchester City. The Italian has been a standout since his move during the transfer window scoring in all three games in the black and red stripes. His arrival has allowed Milan to continue its mid-season revival after sitting in 13th place back in November.
Considering the imposing nature of playing at the San Siro, especially on big European nights, Milan’s record at home in the group stage was less than flattering. It drew 0-0 with Anderlecht, 1-1 with Malaga, before losing 1-0 to Zenit St Petersburg in a match which had no consequence on the final standings.
Barca did what it had to do to get through the group stage, but their away record included a shock 2-1 loss to Celtic. They’ll be without coach Tito Vilanova, who is recuperating in New York following cancer treatment. The Spanish giants have reached the semi-final stage the past five tournaments and thrashed Bayer Leverkusen 10-2 on aggregate at this point last campaign.
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