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Millennium Post

AC Milan in familiar territory

AC Milan have been left dwelling on the past as they prepare to host Barcelona in a Champions League last-16 first leg tie on Wednesday when Lionel Messi will try to score for the Catalans for the 15th match in a row.

The Italians were forced to hold a firesale of their top players to try and balance the books at the end of last season, with striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Thiago Silva among those to leave.

Alexandre Pato has also left since Milan were eliminated by the same opponents in the quarterfinals just under a year ago.

Mario Balotelli, their only marquee signing this season, is cup-tied against Barca, leaving the seven-times European champions a pale shadow of their former selves.

Milan seem to have struggled to come to terms with their new reality - a reflection of the difficulties facing Serie A where clubs can no longer compete with the financial clout of other top European leagues.

At times Milan have been happy to play the role of underdogs, with president Silvio Berlusconi and coach Massimiliano Allegri emphasising they are now a young team building for a financially sustainable future.

But there was none of that talk on their website in the build up to the match as the club preferred to hark back to their past record.

‘A great European city and a fabulous stadium are ready to host the game of the year,’ it said proudly, casting a veil over Milan’s current situation.

‘Certain stadiums bring out a certain atmosphere especially when it comes to European fixtures. Milan-Barcelona is the match between (one of) the most successful clubs in the world and currently the best club in the world.’

Things have certainly changed since Milan outclassed Barcelona 4-0 in the 1994 final. The Italians have won only one of 10 meetings since then, a 1-0 win at San Siro in 2004, and none of the last seven.

Without Balotelli, who has scored four goals in three games since his move from Manchester City, Milan’s hopes of reversing that sequence would appear to be minimal despite an impressive domestic run which has seem them climb to third in Serie A.

Midfielder Xavi is back in the Barcelona squad after missing the last two games but David Villa will not make the trip as he is still recovering from kidney stones. Striker Pedro churned out the usual platitudes when he faced the Spanish media on Monday.

‘Milan has always been difficult,’ he said. ‘They have titles and a great history. It will be difficult, as it always is. They are always dangerous.’


‘SCHALKE HAS NOTHING TO LOSE’


Schalke 04 flew off for Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Galatasaray with goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand insisting they have nothing to lose in the cauldron of Istanbul’s Turk Telekom Stadium. ‘These are the games footballers live for,’ said Hildebrand, who made the last of his seven appearances for Germany in 2007, ahead of Wednesday’s last 16, first-leg match. ‘We don’t actually have anything to lose.’ Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is available after two weeks out after bursting a blood vessel in his eye. ‘The Hunter’ has scored in four of Schalke’s six European games so far this season and including the wins at Arsenal and Olympiakos, but has struggled for form recently. ‘Fear is always a bad advisor,’ said Schalke midfielder Marco Hoeger. ‘Galatasaray have great players like Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder amongst others. We also have good players in our ranks.’
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