What: Champions League – Group H
Who: Barcelona vs AC Milan
When: Tuesday 13th September, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

Defending the Crown

Crowned as 2011 Spanish and European champions, Barcelona get ready for their first Champions League fixture this season against AC Milan, in a match deemed to be worthy of a memorable May final. With Group H also comprising the likes of BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzen, Barcelona and Milan’s qualification seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Barcelona have had their share of setbacks following international weeks every September and this year was no exception as the Catalan giants eventually conceded a two-goal lead to draw with Real Sociedad at the Anoeta Stadium. Throwing away such a lead certainly did not go down well with coach Josep Guardiola, who urged his team to up their game should they want to repeat their successful 2010/11 campaign: “What is clear now is that this season, we will have to perform better than the last if we want to win again. When you win, it becomes harder [to repeat your achievements]", said the Catalan boss.

Adding insult to injury for Barcelona was the fact that Alexis Sanchez was carried off on a stretcher; the tricky Chilean winger has suffered a hamstring tear and is expected to be out for nearly two months. Sanchez had seemingly slotted in with ease at Barcelona and his absence will be a huge blow to a team whose numerical depth is not one its strongest points.

No Mistakes

Similarly to Barcelona, AC Milan were in need of a much-needed morale-boost before they prepared to travel to Spain. However, the reigning Serie A champions found themselves 2-0 down in the first half against Lazio in the season opening match, before eventually fighting back through Antonio Cassano and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a game that could have really gone either way.

Widely tipped this year to retain their crown, Milan’s draw at the San Siro was a disappointment and boss Massimiliano Allegri hinted that individual performances might be the key to overcoming the Blaugrana, while stressing the Ibrahimovic factor as the towering Swede returns to his former club: “He [Zlatan] is very important for us. Last season he did tremendous things, especially in the first half of the season. We won matches thanks to him, when we were not a team yet. We were on our way to becoming a team, and Zlatan made the difference.  They [Barcelona] are a difficult side to play, but you have to try to give your best technically, tactically and physically. I think that with Cassano, Ibrahimovic, [Alexandre] Pato and Robinho we have world-class players in attack." It was much to Milan’s disappointment then that Ibrahimovic picked up an injury in training on Monday, meaning he will miss this one.

The Rossoneri’s defence poses big questions for Allegri, as the duo of Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva were far from being at their best against Lazio. A repeat of such a display against the likes of Lionel Messi and David Villa will surely have serious repercussions for the seven-time Champions League winners.

Recent form

Barcelona 2-0 FC Porto (26/08; UEFA Super Cup)
Barcelona 5-0 Villarreal (29/08; La Liga)
Real Sociedad 2-2 Barcelona (10/09; La Liga)

AC Milan:

Malmo 2-2 Milan (14/08; Friendly)
Milan 2-1 Juventus (21/08; Berlusconi Trophy)
Milan 2-2 Lazio (09/09; Serie A)

Key absences

Barcelona: Alexis Sanchez

AC Milan: Mathieu Flamini; Robinho (doubt); Taye Taiwo (doubt); Philippe Mexes (doubt); Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Players to watch

Barcelona – Cesc Fabregas: The former Arsenal captain is desperate for trophies after a dry spell in recent years in London. Fabregas’ old team was beaten time and time again by Barcelona in this competition, but now on the winning side he will finally fancy his chances of carrying the trophy off next spring.

AC Milan – Antonio Cassano: Linked with a move away from the San Siro this summer and expected to receive precious little playing time, the absence of Ibrahimovic hands Cassano a big opportunity to impress. The former Sampdoria striker will be fired up to do just that.

Match Prediction

It would be foolish to rule out Barcelona following their draw at the weekend, even against a team of Milan’s magnitude. Josep Guardiola’s side remain better equipped than the visitors, and will likely pull the strings to clinch all three points in this match. Barcelona 2-1 AC Milan.

This is a key Champions League clash between Barcelona and AC Milan. Check out OLBG.com where you can put your knowledge to use, find the best bookmakers and see the latest betting odds.