After scoring the 301st goal with his club team this past weekend, Lionel Messi faces off against AC Milan today at 2:45 PM EST for the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League in San Siro.
FC Barcelona gets to the game with their entire squad available except for Villa, who has suffered a kidney stone in the past week and is still not fit to play. Otherwise, only Abidal is out of the call up list as he’s still not able to join the team in competition and of course their head coach, Tito Vilanova, as he is still undergoing cancer treatment in New York.
In front, they will have the youngest AC Milan squad of the last 25 years, where El Shaarawy (20 years old) and Niang (18) will lead the team upfront, since the team’s newest signing, Mario Balotelli (22) cannot play, as he did so at the beginning of the year with Manchester City.
AC Milan has undergone a big change this past season, with veterans like Seedorf, Nesta, Inzaghi or Gatusso leaving the team, and signing younger blood to lead the way into the future. Obviously, their economic issues have also played a role in the reconstruction of the squad, and where Ibrahimovic, Pato or Cassano left the team on multi-million transfer deals, the same quality of players has not yet arrived to Milanello.
Bojan Krkic or Montolivo are the other bets for the future; Krikic on more of a strategic role today as he will face his old team for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Montolivo, one of the best players of the last Euro with Italy, when he reached the final with the Azzurra, was signed during the summer from Fiorentina, but still has not performed as expected. He was seen as a generational relief from Pirlo, but he still has a lot of work ahead of him in order to fill the huge shoes left by The Regista.
The Cules will line up their most used and preferred team, having Lionel Messi being joined upfront with Iniesta and Pedro, while Cesc, Xavi and Busquets occupy the middle. Xavi has been injured since the last Clasico (three weeks ago) but was planning his recovery to be 100 percent for this match and he finally made it onto the list last night.
For the first time in four years, Lionel Messi gets to this part of the competition without leading the best goal scorer table, which is owned at this point by Cristiano Ronaldo, with two more (seven) than the Argentine (five). He will most likely want to turn this around today and will try to bring his good streak from the league—where he leads the table with 34 goals—to the Champions League in hopes to help Barça reach the next round.
AC Milan defeated Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of their round of 16 matchup for the Champions League.