Is the end of an era approaching at Barcelona? It seems ridiculous to even ask the question about about a side dominating their domestic league and with a player in Lionel Messi who has just broken a 70-year-old goalscoring record, but as AC Milan head to Camp Nou for their Champions League last-16 second leg with a 2-0 advantage, for Barca the moment of truth has come.
It has been some time since the Catalans have had so much work to do in a Champions League tie, but with the Rossoneri enjoying such a healthy first-leg lead there is every chance that this could become a defining match for Barcelona’s immediate future.
Granted, Tito Vilanova’s side will win La Liga so talk about this team being at the end of the road is to my mind premature, but that hasn’t stopped the Spanish press going into overdrive as a series of poor results and uncharacteristically sluggish displays have called their dominance into doubt.
It is understandable. That Barca will win the league is mainly down to their imperious form before Christmas, because since the New Year this has been an unrecognisable team. All the star names are still there but the stardust is absent, and the statistics tell a sorry tale for a team of such talent.
It is nearly unthinkable, but Barcelona head into this crucial second leg on the back of three defeats in five games: the loss at San Siro and two defeats to arch rivals Real Madrid – one in La Liga and the other in the Copa del Rey quarter-final – and what’s more, they were deserved losses, too.
It extends their recent run to just four wins in their last nine matches in all competitions, and even more worrying for Vilanova is that performances have not deserved any better. Defensively, the Catalans have been even worse, keeping just one clean sheet in their last 14 matches in league and cup, conceding 21 goals in that sequence and they are currently boasting their worst defensive record since 1962.
And if you were an AC Milan player, you would be wary of Barcelona but would you fear them in the manner you may have done in the past? Massimiliano Allegri’s side were easily the better team three weeks ago, and I don’t see why the odds for this one are so skewed towards a home win.
A price of 3/10 on the hosts is ridiculous given the form they are in, and the draw at 21/4 and a Milan win at 6/1 look on the big side to me.
Milan have not lost a match in 90 minutes in their last 12 and couldn’t be going to Camp Nou in better fettle. Eight of those games have been victories, including four of the last five – and even the draw in that sequence was a highly unfortunate one against city rivals Inter. And at 2-0 up, Milan have Barca exactly where they want them and I can’t justify a tip on Vilanova’s side at the prices on offer, even though they could easily turn in a great performance with the talent at their disposal.
What I will do, however, is play the 6/4 that Milan score exactly one goal as I strongly fancy that the Rossoneri can get on the scoresheet. Allegri’s men have failed to score just once in 14 away matches in Serie A, and as discussed above this Barcelona defence is in no mood to keep a clean sheet any more, and Milan have the know-how to grab that all important away goal that will swing the tie decisively in their favour.
Milan have been to Camp Nou five times in the Champions League era and scored in four of those games, and I think they can do so again. It is hard to see them scoring more than once, but Barcelona have let in exactly one goal in 15 of their 27 league games and eight of their 13 home matches, and Milan can strike here at 6/4.