Milan – Massimiliano Allegri has pledged his AC Milan side will make light of Barcelona's status as the “best” team in the world when the sides' meet for the fifth time in two seasons in the Champions League.
Milan have been crowned European champions seven times but are rated as clear underdogs for their last 16 first leg clash against the Spanish giants at the San Siro.
Milan's record in seven home games against Barcelona reads: won two, drawn three and lost three.
And the Italians have been eliminated from the competition on the two previous times they have met Barca in the knockout phase:
in last season's quarter-finals and in the semi-finals in 2006.
For Allegri, who narrowly escaped the axe earlier this season while Milan endured their worst ever start to a Serie A campaign, the aura surrounding Barcelona Ä who won their fourth title in 2011 Ä is not up for debate.
“Barcelona are currently the strongest team in the world and have some of the best players in the world,” Allegri told reporters at Milan's Milanello training ground here Tuesday.
But the 55-year-old coach, who has seen his side climb to third place in Serie A after their disastrous start, believes it's time to break recent tradition
But he acknowledges it will be crucial to curtail Barca's possession game.
“We've had good performances against Barcelona in recent years in the competition but tomorrow (Wednesday) night we have to go on to the pitch believing we can go one better,” he added.
“Barcelona have a very strong midfield and we have to pay special attention to (Lionel) Messi, but it's not just him we have to worry about. We also have to look out, for example, for (Andres) Iniesta.
“Statistically, Barcelona are a team that Ä against Milan and Real Madrid Ä enjoy 65 percent possession, and we have to try and change that.”
Milan will line up without star striker Mario Balotelli, who is cup-tied for the rest of this season's competition having played in it with former club Manchester City.
It means Allegri is likely to opt for Stephan El Shaarawy, his team's top scorer this season with 15 goals, as part of the frontline in a 4-3-3 formation likely also to include Kevin Prince Boateng and Giampaolo Pazzini.
Despite complaining of a knee niggle recently, El Shaarwawy is “in the squad... we'll see how he gets on after today's training session,” added Allegri.
Whether there is space in the team for former Barcelona forward Bojan Krkic remains to be seen, although the indications seem to suggest he could start from the bench.
“He's not been sidelined. He remains an important player for us,” said the coach.
Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo knows it's a formidable challenge, but he is confident the Rossoneri can continue their recent form and beat Barca for the first time in the competition since a 2-0 win at the Nou Camp in 2000.
“It's true that we're up against the strongest team in the world and some of the best players in the world,” said Montolivo.
“But I also believe we're playing really well at the moment and can go out there and give them a game.
“It will be a difficult game but we have to go out and give 100
percent from the kick off until the final whistle.” – Sapa-AFP