Lionel Messi is on the brink of yet another record as title-holders Barcelona visit AC Milan on Wednesday with the odds firmly stacked against the injury-hit Serie A team.
Barcelona have looked unstoppable in the Champions League this season. Seven-times champions Milan,on the other hand,have been struggling with injuries in the run-up to the quarter-final first-leg tie,a repeat of the 1994 final which the Italians won 4-0.
Pep Guardiolas side have won seven and drawn one of their eight games,scoring 30 goals at an average of nearly four per match,and beat Milan 3-2 at the San Siro in the group stage. They have not lost in their last 14 Champions League games and are unbeaten in their last five against the Italians.
Messi has scored 18 goals in his last eight Barcelona matches and a hat-trick for Argentina. His club tally included the first five-goal haul in the Champions League,against Bayer Leverkusen. He needs one more to break the Champions League season record of 12 goals,set by himself last season and Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003,and also notch up his 50th goal of the competition.
Last week,Messi broke the Barcelona record with his 234th goal for the club and his tally of 55 goals this season in all competitions is already a Spanish record with two months still to play.
The outlook became bleaker for Milan after Thiago Silva,the linchpin of their defence,joined the injured list,limping off early during the 2-1 win over AS Roma on Saturday. Right back Ignazio Abate and Brazilian forwards Robinho and Alexandre Pato are also sidelined while the Serie A leaders will miss suspended Mark Van Bommel in midfield.
The good news is Kevin-Prince Boateng is fit again while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been outstanding in attack. The volatile Swede,who left Barcelona in acrimonious circumstances 18 months ago,remains Milans trump card with 22 goals in Serie A this season and five in the Champions League.
Although Milan have a four-point lead at the top of Serie A,they have struggled in big matches,and were outplayed in both group-stage meetings against Barcelona and reached the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie.
Milan were criticised for fielding Silva against Roma but chief executive Adriano Galliani defended the policy on Monday. We knew Thiago Silva had a problem,but he seemed fine, Galliani said. Then he got injured and everyone is talking about it. Nobody knew that Zlatan Ibrahimovic played with a bad back, he added. If he had not played maybe we may not have won. Risks are part of the game.
As for Barcelona,we will be meeting the holders who are playing the best football in the world. Milan have been used to facing these types of matches for many years and I am pleased when Milan battle.
Guardiola dismissed Milans problems. If we are expecting Milan to play below usual standard,then were wrong, he said. The fact that we did well in the group stage doesnt mean we are going to win this tie.
Tough task for Marseille
In Paris,Olympique Marseille will have two key players missing when they host Bayern Munich. While Marseille have lost seven of their last eight games in all competitions,Bayern have scored 22 goals in their last five games and are beaming with confidence. Marseille will be without goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and centre-back Souleymane Diawara through suspension. Diawara will also miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
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