Monday, 11 March 2013’s defeats against Milan and Real Madrid have called into question the tactics employed and so now here at barcelonafans we look at some of the alternatives for the return leg against the Italians.
David Villa or Cesc Fabregas – Cesc was preferred in the first leg as has been the case in the big matches this season but the tactic didn’t work as the team needed a greater cutting edge against a well-organised Milan. It led to Barca endelessly passing the ball around the middle of the pitch and making little headway. While Iniesta is extremely talented there is no doubt he is more effective in midfield. Still playing Villa against Madrid didn’t work.
Defence of three or four – Another option is to have a three man defence of Puyol, Pique and Alba particularly with Milan likely to defend deeply and if Alves plays then he could be on the right wing in a more advanced position.
It appears clear that Barca have lost some of their rhythm and workrate under Jordi Roura and this has led to double training sessions this week in the buildup for the Milan game.

After a record-breaking start to the season Barcelona have suffered a dip in form and they face a stern test of their Champions League credentials against AC Milan on Tuesday night as they look to overturn a 2-0 first leg defeat to progress to the quarter-finals.
Barca only dropped two points from their first 19 games in la liga to open up a sizeable lead at the top of the table but in the last two months chinks have started to show in their armoury, particularly in defence where they hadn’t kept a clean sheet in 13 games in all competitions until Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Deportivo la Coruna.
Much of the problem has been caused by a failure to pressure with the same intent up the pitch starting with the forwards which has allowed the opposition to have more time on the ball and expose their defensive flaws which was shown clearly in the first leg at the San Siro.
They also looked ragged and without ideas in the King’s Cup defeat by Real Madrid and while it could be argued that it is logical for a team to drop their form during the course of the season it has coincided with the absence of coach Tito Vilanova who has been receiving cancer treatment in New York.
Except for one game against Espanyol in early January it has been assistant coach Jordi Roura who has been leading the team and although he is in close contact with Vilanova it appears as though he lacks the same discipline and strength of character to motivate the players.
He is though firm in his mind what the team needs to do against Milan.
“It is an important game and the one that we have been focusing on. We are clear about how we are going to approach it. We know how Milan are going to play and how we will do ourselves. I don’t think there is a problem psychologically and we are all very much up for Tuesday’s game,” said Roura after the Deportivo game.
Roura rested a number of players against Depor who will start against Milan including Lionel Messi and again Barca lacked their typical slick passing with two many errors and Messi needed to come on to score the second and secure the win in the second half.
“We need to do better in front of goal but we did have intensity. At 1-0 anything can happen but we are happy with the result and the league is key for us,” said Roura.
“Each competition is different and you have to appreciate that when we now look at the Champions League but still it is best to approach it with a win where we worked hard and created chances, while importantly not conceding.
“We have been working on pressuring more and I think we are in good form and in conditions to achieve our aim. We will give everything to turn the game around. I’ve seen the players and they will do everything humanly possible.”
Contrastingly Milan are going through their best form of the season and warmed up for the game with a 2-0 win away to Genoa.
Mario Balotelli has given them greater potency in attack although he is not eligible in Europe and they are also without Giampaolo Pazzini who was injured in the Genoa match.
“We have belief in ourselves and that we can qualify for the next round. It won’t be an easy game and it is going to be quite defensive but we will also try and play our football as we know that a goal will make it even harder for them,” said midfielder Mathieu Flamini.

ac milan 2-0 barcelona muntari alvesOne massive night of Champions League football awaits Camp Nou as Barça try to overcome AC Milan’s 2-0 advantage taken from the first leg at the San Siro three weeks ago. Xavi Hernandez looks set to return to Barça’s midfield though there has been much debate about which starting XI should be used to face a Milan team that is unbeaten in Serie A in 2013.
Milan arrive without Pazzini who left Puyol with a splitting headache after the first leg and reports suggest that Max Allegri will play a 4-5-1 system with just Stephan El-Shaawary as a lone forward. Antonio Nocerino could return to bolster the midfield while Kevin-Prince Boateng could be asked to play a deeper role. Nocerino, Boateng and Ambrosini were all rested for Milan’s 0-2 win at Genoa on Friday when the Rossoneri demonstrated their strength in defence, holding out with ten men for the last twenty five minutes after Kevin Constant was sent off.
barcelona 3-1 milan iniesta goalLast season the two sides met at the quarter-final stage and after a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Italy, Barça went through with a 3-1 win at Camp Nou. For that game Pep Guardiola began with a 3-4-3 formation and I have to admit that before Barça’s 2-0 win over Deportivo on Saturday I had been seduced by the idea of starting against Milan again with a defence of three. We may not have used the 3-4-3 formation much this season but last season we used it a lot and our players should be able to adapt. The 3-4-3 formation is especially suited to Cesc Fabregas and I saw us playing with two wide forwards, Messi and Cesc combining through the middle, with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets making up the midfield.
However, Fabregas’s recent run of form has made me doubt. The fact that he played with an injury against Milan and Madrid may be some excuse for his below-par performances, but against Depor he was again off the pace, and following his press conference last Thursday when he spoke of the team’s situation and felt the need to defend himself, I get the impression that he is feeling the pressure. For this reason I have gone back to the idea of a 4-3-3 with a midfield three of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta. The question then is: who should play up front with Leo Messi?
Alexis has suffered recently from a drop in confidence but his performance against Depor suggests he is at last recovering his form. I have never doubted his quality as a player and always felt his problems were in his head. He will be boosted by his goal on Saturday and I believe he should start against Milan.
The other forward position will then be a choice between Tello, David Villa and Pedro. Villa is the best finisher of the three but he is clearly not in his best moment. Tello was impressive in the first half against Depor and he is certainly the most direct at taking on his man. My only problem with Tello is his ability to last 90 minutes and on Saturday he was not so effective in the second half. I have not been too impressed with Pedro recently but he was rested on Saturday with the intention of having him at his best. I think he’ll get the other forward’s slot with Villa and Tello being used as subs for the last half hour depending on how the game is going.
It’s never going to be easy to break down a well organised Italian defence, however fancy our quick one-twos may be. Perhaps the best way to surprise them is to be first to any rebounds or half-clearances and for this we will need a constant intense pressing. Alexis and Pedro are probably the most insistent of our forwards in chasing down defenders, and I think Messi should be asked to increase his work in this aspect for this game. When we have the ball we need to keep it moving as quickly as possible, play less horizontally and try to get more balls into the danger zone.
The players will need to avoid getting too desperate as we have seen in recent years against Inter and Chelsea that sometimes the enormity of the occasion can get the better of them. As fans, whoever plays, we must have faith. They may not win everything but this group of players has achieved so much and proved itself on countless occasions. Here’s to another fantastic night to be remembered for years to come.

Possible starting XIs:

Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.

Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant; Nocerino, Montolivo, Boateng, Ambrosini, Muntari; El Shaarawy.

Prediction: Barça 3 Milan 0 (after extra time)

Date: Tuesday 12 March 2013. Kick off 8.45 pm local time.
By Football Espana staff
Arsenal are preparing to make a €10m bid for Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, according to Mundo Deportivo.
The Blaugrana shot-stopper will not extend his contract at the club which ends in 2014 – which means Tito Vilanova's side will look to sell in the summer rather than let him leave on a free next season.
Arsene Wenger is a keen admirer of the 31-year-old and is using former striker and one-time teammate of Valdes, Thierry Henry, to try and persuade him to come to north London.
By Dan Talintyre
Hi-res-162455715_crop_exact David Ramos/Getty Images
Just when you thought that Lionel Messi couldn't get any better, couldn't be any more prolific and couldn't break any more records—he went one better, again.
Like so many times throughout his career when the expectations on Messi seemed to have reached their peak, the Argentinian international somehow managed to better his previous marks and shatter those expectations with a new reality as to what he can do on a football pitch.
According to Barcelona's Twitter account, the 25-year-old has broken an 80-year-old record by scoring in his 17th successive La Liga game for Barca—netting a game-sealing goal off the bench for the Catalan club in their 2-0 win over last-placed Deportivo.
BBC Sport also shared insight on the new "record" that Messi has achieved, and the incredible significance behind just how prolific he is in front of goal:
Lionel Messi scored in his 17th successive La Liga game, breaking a world record which has stood since the 1930s, according to Barcelona.
Barca said Messi had beaten Pole Teodor Pewterek's 1937-38 record of scoring in 16 straight games for Ruch Chorzow. There was no immediate confirmation of Barcelona's claim by world governing body FIFA.
Messi has now scored 52 goals in all competitions this season—a mark that seems incredible given how far ahead he is of other players around the world.
He's 14 goals clear of second-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, 18 goals clear of the EPL's top scorer in Luis Suarez and over 20 clear of any other league's best.
Messi is simply in rare touch—even for him—and as a result, it will set up for an absolutely thrilling matchup against AC Milan during the week. For in their Champions League match, with the odds seemingly stacked against them, Messi will no doubt fire for La Blaugrana.
Down a two-goal margin, Barcelona will be looking to attack from the opening whistle—even more so than they already do. The Catalan club will likely be direct and threatening, and will be doing everything they can to get attempts on goal and get the ball into the box.
Which will suit Messi even more.
Hi-res-161805720_crop_exact David Ramos/Getty Images
Considering that he's netted as many goals as he has with Barcelona sputtering both domestically and throughout Europe; imagine what he can do with the direct nature of Barca's attack in this one. It's almost a scary thought to consider, but Messi could be even more lethal for the La Liga leaders here than he has done in arguably any other game at all this season.
Can he lead the Spanish heavyweights back from the brink of defeat and somehow keep their Champions League fairytale alive in 2013? Or will the deficit and the defeat suffered back at the San Siro prove to be too much to overcome? Will Messi find his goal-scoring form again in Europe, or will his recent tear in La Liga fail to correlate with international success also?
They're all big questions and ones that we'll find the answers to soon enough, when Milan walk out at the Nou Camp and try to hold out Barcelona this week.
But either way—win or lose—Messi will be firing once more. The direct nature of Barca's attack suggests it, and his recent goal-scoring form confirms it.
Which could make for a very long 90 minutes if you're a Milan fan.

Will Lionel Messi score and bring Barcelona back against Milan?
By Timothy Rapp
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at Old Trafford on Sunday. For both Manchester United and Chelsea, that's how they'll feel about their FA Cup clash.
The Red Devils completely dominated in the first half and took a 2-0 lead early on. Chelsea played like a team possessed in the second half, however, and roared back to tie the game (and nearly won it).
In the end, the game ended 2-2 in an exhilarating match that lived up to the hype generated by these two superpowers.
Manchester United struck first in this game, as Javier Hernandez headed home the game's first goal in the fifth minute. It came off a brilliant pass from Michael Carrick, whose lob into the box was perfectly played over keeper Petr Cech by El Chicharito.
The Red Devils wouldn't wait long to double their lead.
After Victor Moses fouled Nani on the United counter-attack, Wayne Rooney stepped up to take a free kick from just outside and to the left of the Chelsea box. His curling effort to the far post didn't find the head of a teammate, but it continued into the net, as Cech anticipated a header.
Just 12 minutes into the game, United had a 2-0 lead.
United continued to push in the first half. Nani's brilliant cross into the box would be chipped just over the bar by Hernandez, and Rooney later sent another cross directly at Cech, who then made a second brilliant save after defender David Luiz inexplicably headed the ball back toward goal.
United had Chelsea on the ropes, and only 25 minutes had passed in the contest. Chelsea created a few opportunities throughout the half but lacked the final touch needed to score.
The second half continued in the same vein as the end of the first half, with Chelsea ratcheting up the pressure but unable to find that last pass or shot to beat United—at least until Eden Hazard entered the game.
The star winger cut the lead in half on an absolutely brilliant shot from outside the box that curled and dipped above keeper David de Gea, who never had a chance. Suddenly, Chelsea had hope.
And Chelsea wasn't done.
In the 68th minute, Demba Ba held up the ball on the counter and found Oscar streaking down the middle of the field. The young Brazilian then found Ramires tearing down the right side, and Ramires slotted home the game-tying shot after taking a deft touch to put the ball on his left foot.
Just like that, a game completely dominated by Manchester United early on was all tied up.
Both teams pressured the opposing goal down the stretch, and de Gea saved the game for Manchester United in the 90th minute. Juan Mata deftly controlled a long pass at the edge of the box, turned in past the defense and ripped a shot at goal, which de Gea just deflected wide.
The game justifiably ended in a 2-2 tie, with both teams feeling as though they should have won but likely relieved that they didn't lose. The replay will now head back to Stamford Bridge.

Nani, Manchester United: A-
Hi-res-163163373_crop_exact Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Nani was excellent in this game, regularly pressuring the Chelsea defense down the wing and peppering the box with solid crosses. His run at Moses set up the Rooney goal, and he was active throughout. The man thought to be a goner after the year played very well in this one.

Eden Hazard, Chelsea: A
Hi-res-163334474_crop_exact Julian Finney/Getty Images
Hazard's brilliant goal saved this game for a Chelsea side that looked overmatched for much of the first half. You could make the argument that Hazard should have started the game over Oscar, but his substitution in the second half was timely, and his impact was almost immediately felt.

Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United: A
Demba Ba will have nightmares about Ferdinand after this game. The wily defender totally won his battle with the Chelsea striker, winning back contested balls and keeping Ba from scoring chances throughout this match. United wasn't nearly as solid in the second half, but Ferdinand played a very solid match.

Frank Lampard, Chelsea: C
Hi-res-163325775_crop_exact Julian Finney/Getty Images
Lampard just wasn't the right man for the job today. He left the Blues defense vulnerable, he wasn't able to facilitate scoring opportunities and Chelsea simply looked a far better side after he was subbed out in the second half. Chelsea remains a team without a top starting 11—and Lampard has played very well this year—but on Sunday he was more hindrance than help for the Blues.

Javier Hernandez, Manchester United: A-
Hi-res-163457359_crop_exact Alex Livesey/Getty Images
He didn't last the whole game, but there wasn't a more dangerous player in the first half than El Chicharito. His runs were piercing, his finish on the goal was pure brilliance and the Chelsea back line didn't have an answer for him in the first half.
Bsoccery Michael Cummings

Stop Gareth Bale, and Liverpool will stop Spurs, or so the headlines from the tabloids proclaimed. As pre-match pep talk, it settled neatly on a problem that has befuddled many a defense in recent months. But it also overlooked a couple vital points, both of which proved pivotal Sunday afternoon at Anfield.
First, does it qualify as stopping Bale when the Welshman doesn't score but "only" sets up two goals? And second, who said Bale was the only important player in the match?
With all the attention focused lately on Bale's rise to stardom, it was almost possible to forget about Luis Suarez of Liverpool. But the Premier League's leading scorer scored another Sunday, his 22nd of the season and seventh in four outings in all competitions. Thanks in large part to his contributions, Liverpool won the match.
Suarez also won the penalty that decided the result in a thrilling if sloppy match that saw the Reds succeed where so many have failed in recent weeks. Liverpool led, then trailed, then came from behind to hand Tottenham a 3-2 loss, ending Spurs' run of just one defeat in all competitions since Dec. 9.
In victory, Liverpool moved onto 45 points, level with Everton but ahead of their Merseyside rivals on goal difference. A top-four place and Champions League football remain seven points distant, but Brendan Rodgers now has his first three-match winning streak in his first season at Anfield.
Considering Spurs' recent form, much from Sunday's result might surprise. Most unexpected of all, however, is this: While Tottenham lost, they did so with Bale playing well. In other words, Liverpool stopped Spurs but not because they could stop Bale.
Hi-res-163457270_crop_exact Michael Regan/Getty Images
The 23-year-old midfielder had been in astonishing goal-scoring form of late, with 10 goals in his last eight appearances in all competitions. He didn't score Sunday, and he'll be credited with only one assist, but Bale was heavily involved in both of Tottenham's goals.The first, which canceled out Suarez's stylish opener, came from Bale's cross from the right flank. His curling, left-footed pass found Jan Vertonghen, who headed Spurs level on the stroke of halftime.
Bale then helped put Spurs ahead early in the second half. This time a free kick, again from the right, troubled Liverpool's defense along with Michael Dawson's harrying presence. The ball landed for Vertonghen, who paused with a striker's instinct and waited for the right moment to slam home a left-footed drive.
Baleft_original Gareth Bale's performance levels against Liverpool. Notice the upswing on either side of halftime, when Spurs overturned a 1-0 deficit. Image and stats via
So while Bale went scoreless in the match, one could wonder whether Bale now needs to score in order to hurt his opponents. In his new advanced, free role in the Tottenham attack, his influence reaches throughout this Spurs side and alters the entire team's performance. Near the end of the first half, when his team trailed by a goal, Bale wielded his powers more effectively than any other player on the pitch.But for all of Bale's influence, Suarez was at times perhaps just as important for Liverpool.
Suarezft_original Luis Suarez's performance data against Tottenham. Notice the sharp rise near his goal (21') and the slight uptick around the penalty decision (82'). Stats and image via
The mercurial Uruguayan put the Reds ahead with a typically expert near-post finish in the 21st minute and nearly set up another six minutes later. After falling behind to Vertonghen's second, Liverpool equalized through Stewart Downing after a fortuitously poor back-pass and then grabbed the winner through captain Steven Gerrard's powerful penalty.
Almost inevitably, Suarez was the man responsible for the latter. Seizing on another defensive miscue—this time a poor clearance by Jermain Defoe—Suarez took control of the ball in the box and put himself in position to win a penalty with Benoit Assou-Ekotto's clumsy challenge.
As both the stats (see the graphs above) and the storylines will show, both Suarez and Bale raised their level of play when their teams had their separate moments of ascendancy. Such a coincidence is hardly accidental, but rather the hallmarks of influential and important players.
Bale hit perhaps greater heights, but if anything, Suarez saved the most crucial contributions for the most important times.
When the end-of-season individual awards go out at the end of the season, both Suarez and Bale will rank among the favorites for hardware. Sunday's match might not have settled any scores in the race for personal accolades, but it should serve as a powerful reminder that Suarez and Bale are among the best the Premier League has to offer at the moment.