FC Barcelona may be the heavy favorite in today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash with AC Milan, but it might be a mistake to count out the Italians.
Yes, Barcelona is riding impressive form, and Milan won’t have cup-tied Mario Balotelli in their squad, and could be without injured star Stephan El Shaarawy, but the storied club still has enough quality to make things difficult for the Spanish giants.
This rematch of last year’s quarterfinal match-up (won by Barcelona) kicks off in Milan today, with Barcelona running away with the Spanish Primera Division and entering with plenty of confidence under interim manager Jordi Roura. If there is a chink in the armor it is the fact that Barcelona has been conceding goals with regularity in recent weeks. That’s something Milan will look to exploit.
The day’s other match has its share of stars as well, with two previous Champions League winners coming together to try and lead an unexpected contender. Galatasaray will show off new signings Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba in Round of 16 action against Schalke 04, and today’s match will mark Drogba’s first Champions League action since scoring the decisive penalty kick to help Chelsea win the title a year ago.
Schalke will be considered underdogs, and injuries and recent struggles make that label reasonable, but with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar expected back, and Jefferson Farfan and Michel Bastos in the attack, the Germans will have a chance against the Turkish giants. Schalke also features the lone U.S. national team player in the Champions League, midfielder Jermaine Jones.
Here is a closer look at today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matches:
BARCELONA vs. AC MILAN
2:45pm, Fox Soccer Channel
Players to Watch: BARCELONA- Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol. AC MILAN- Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Mbaye Niang.
Quick Kicks: These teams met in last year’s Champions League quarterfinals, with Barcelona taking the series. Pazzini has recovered from a thigh injury for Milan, but El Sharaawy is still a question mark. If he can’t go them Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri might turn to Robinho. Mario Balotelli is cup-tied to Manchester City and therefore ineligible for this series. Xavi is back from a torn hamstring for Barcelona, but may not be ready to start. Adriano suffered a hamstring injury last weekend and will miss the match. David Villa is still dealing with kidney issues that forced him to be hospitalized temporarily.
GALATASARAY vs. SCHALKE 04
2:45pm, MSG+, Fox Soccer Plus
Players to Watch: GALATASARAY- Wesley Snjeider, Didier Drogba, Umut Bulit, Hamit Altintop. SCHALKE 04- Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan, Jermaine Jones, Michel Bastos.
Quick Kicks: Gala are without Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi, who is sidelined by a knee injury. Drogba only recently joined the team and is a question mark for the starting lineup. Schalke is dealing with a bunch of injuries, with Atsuto Uchida, Ibrahim Afellay, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Ciprian Marica, Christoph Moritz and Lars Unnerstall all slated to miss today’s match.