Barca ready for AC Milan challenge

Madrid, Feb 19: FC Barcelona will play AC Milan in the San Siro Stadium in the last 16 of the Champions League Wednesday night knowing that the weight of expectation is on their shoulders.

Barca travel as runaway leaders in the Spanish Primera Liga and as the favourites to win this season’s Champions League as well, reports Xinhua.

However, the Catalans travel knowing they are possibly in one of their lowest moments of form in the current season and that in recent weeks they have struggled away from home.

It has been a tiring start to 2013 for Barca, whose players have had to battle through three rounds of the Copa del Rey and still have a semi-final return leg against Real Madrid awaiting them.

Those Cup games, plus the fact that the majority of the Barca squad was away on international duty a fortnight ago, means that last week was the first time this year that the players did not have a midweek match.

That has manifested itself in a slight dip in form away from home, starting with a 2-3 defeat away to Real Sociedad followed by a 1-1 draw in Valencia and last weekend’s narrow win 2-1 in Granada.

The AC Milan players will look at those games and think they have a chance Wednesday. In the middle of those off colour displays in the League, Barca turned on the style at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg and although the result was a 1-1 draw, Barca deserved more.

There is a feeling that the Catalan club have the ability to step up a gear on the big night and come the big game, that is when they produce the big performance.

Meanwhile past seasons have also seen Barca suffer a slight dip in form in the New Year, only to begin hitting their peak form in the run in to the end of the season. If things go according to plan, that should happen again this year.

That is highlighted by the return of Xavi Hernandez, who has been out for the past two weeks after suffering a muscle strain, result of the heavy workload in the opening weeks of the year. Xavi will once again be the man pulling the strings in the Barca midfield.

He will be joined by Andres Iniesta, who was rested in Granada and Sergio Busquets, meaning Barcelona have all three midfield maestros together at the same time.

Carles Puyol, another player rested Saturday, also returns to the side along with Jordi Alba, although Adriano misses out with a slight muscle problem and David Villa has had to remain at home after suffering a stomach bug that needed hospital treatment.

IANS