Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Inter v Barcelona part III - Champions League Semi Finals

So Inter meet Barcelona for the third time of this year's Champions League after having faced one another during the group stages - a draw at the San Siro and a Barcelona victory back in Spain. Now both clubs face each other for a chance at getting to the finals in Madrid.  To many these games are just a simple victory lap for the defending European Champions on their way to a back to back title...not so fast!

This game does hold many story lines - starting with Eto'o and Ibra playing their former clubs. Throw into the mix the Special One looking to secure his first Champions League title since he won it with Porto and you have a the making of a good match up. So what should we expect?

First, an underlying story - the volcano in Iceland has forced Barcelona to bus its way to Milan. Granted the trip, according to Google maps is only a 9 hour trip. However I am sure most of these players have not had to take a bus on such a long away trip since they were kids. With an already packed calendar the extra travel time could have an impact on the game.

I also agree with the Bleacher Report that Barca might underestimate their opponents, slightly. Barcelona is playing very well, Espanyol tie aside. With the last memory of Barcelona in the Champions League of Messi completely taking apart the North Londoners it is hard to imagine how Inter will slow down the offensive juggernaut that is Barca.

However this is not Arsenal, this is Milan who will play their usual Italian style of tough defensive football. I think the key will be how they slow down Xavi - therefore try and cut off the service to Messi and Ibra. Barca is without Iniesta which takes away their 2 headed midfield attack. Inter will probably throw a combination of Chivu and Cambiasso to break up the midfield flow. This could cause some problems for Barca. The other interesting story line will be how the 2 attacking full backs - Maicon and Alves influence the match. Neither is really known for their defensive ability but more for their forays into the offensive side of the pitch. With Barcelona missing Abidal it will be interesting to see how the defensive mates of Alves cover his offensive runs.

I think in the end, the match at the San Siro will be a very cautious affair. Inter will want to avoid giving up the away goal and will probably be content to head back to Barca with a 0-0 draw or at best a 1-0 lead to defend. I am sure that Mourinho will "muscle" up Messi and Xavi see if they can cut off the center of the Barcelona park.

I see this match ending 1-1 with an early goal from Ibra only to see Inter equalize late via a goal from Maicon. This will set up an interesting return leg to Barcelona.

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