The headlines were short but sweet. Barca win and Tito comes back. Simple but the message was clear. Mundo Deportivo had asked Leo Messi to imagine the perfect front page for the morning after their tie against AC Milan and that was his wish, victory and his coach back in good health. After a terrible run, Barcelona were on the ropes. Some were even suggesting that horsemen could be seen hanging around the Nou Camp. This weekend’s La Liga tie was overlooked, and so it could be with Barca nine points ahead. There is only one thing on Barca players and fans minds and that is Milan.
For the last week all the Catalan press have been lifting spirits and preparing fans for this weeks Champions League tie, telling fans that they have a part to play and that their support is needed, they have also told supporters to come to the ground and be prepared to sing and be part of history. In 2000 the club faced Chelsea after suffering a 3-1 defeat in London. As the players walked out they were greeted by a huge mural which read '2-0'. They won 5-1 and Louis Van Gaal’s men went through. That night the ground was electric with the supporters singing non-stop. They need that again tonight.
Three defeats in a row, something that hadn’t happened in years and fans were feeling a little low. They needed a pick me up badly and this weekend they beat Deportivo de la Coruña. They rested key players, including Messi, so that they could come into their midweek tie with fresh legs. Xavi was out injured but on Sunday he was back in training and is expected to play some part in tomorrows game.
David Villa got to start but left the game a little frustrated after he missed some key chances and was taken off for Messi. There were times when they were nervous and it looked like Deportivo might sneak a goal. Cesc Fabregas had a night that he will want to forget. He received a poor reception from the home fans for comments made to the Press that got fans on his back. After saying that the Nou Camp crowd had been particularly harsh on him because of his stay at Arsenal, fans booed and whistled him as he was substituted off the pitch. On Tuesday things will be put to one side as the press and club are calling for unity both on and off the pitch.
Alexis Sánchez, who has been criticised for his lack of prowess in front of goal, scored against Deportivo and also put in a fantastic performance. Alexis now gives stand in coach Jordi Roura a selection headache. Villa would maybe have been one of his first choices but with Pedro and Alexis making arguments to start alongside Messi, we may see the Spanish forward on the bench. Former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano may find himself on the bench too but right now Roura is playing his cards close to his chest. He has a healthy squad and after last weekend’s win, morale is high.
Carles Puyol not only controls the Catalan defence, it appears that he also controls the CD player. The captain has chosen a special song to motivate the side before kick off. It will be blasted a few decibels louder than normal so that they can intimidate AC Milan in the next dressing room. The coaching staff have been watching lots of videos and have also looked at Arsenal’s Champions League tie against the Rossoneri last season in the Emirates. The club expect the Italians to defend and let Barca attack. Milan have said that they won’t just defend and will try and get Barca on the counter attack. They come with two players out injured and more worrying for them is that one of them is Phillipe Mexes.
Mundo Deportivo have said that Barca need to do five things to win. First up is the early goal. In 21 of their 44 games, they have scored in the first 30 minutes and against Osasuna they scored three times but they need to be careful as they have also conceded 11 times in those 44 games in that time too. After that Barca need to shoot more from outside the box. So far this season they have scored 18 times with long range shots. They also need to take more advantage of corners and set pieces.
Interesting too is the point that they need to take care more when defending set pieces. Real Madrid beat them in the El Clasico when Ramos got above their defence. Sadly for Barca this is not the only example where they have been caught and they will need to be on their toes tomorrow because as mentioned it is believed that it is on counter attacks and set pieces that AC Milan believe they can nick another away goal that will almost certainly seal the tie.
Finally Mundo Deportivo said that Barca need to open up the pitch and give Messi space to roam. Milan will try to force him to play in a limited space and should they succeed, Barca could suffer. Messi has scored almost half of their 121 goals and after him there is Villa with 12. While they stress that they are more than a one-man club and this is certainly true, should Allegri manage to contain him, Barca will struggle.
Hope is the word around Catalonia. Barca believe that they can get the three goals needed and reach the next round. They have fresh players and the ambition to do it. With no Tito Vilanova, Jordi Roura will take control of the bench. Should he pull off a result, he will go down in history.