Madrid: The moment of truth arrives for FC Barcelona as they entertain AC Milan in the Camp Nou Stadium Tuesday night knowing they need to score three goals if they are to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Barca`s 0-2 defeat in Milan three weeks ago was without doubt the shock of the first leg matches as a dreadful display from Barca, who were sluggish in attack and flat footed in defence, allowed the Italians to catch them on the break and put them against the ropes.
The Barca players reacted in the press, promising better next time around. Lionel Messi, marked out of the match in the San Siro and forced further and further back to look for the ball, said the team had full confidence in itself, while Andres Iniesta was willing to "put my hand in the fire that we will get through the round."
Brave words, but words which have so far yet to find evidence to back them up. Following the Milan debacle, Barca turned on the style for 15 minutes to come back from a goal down to defeat Sevilla, but that was followed by a humiliating Copa del Rey exit at the hands of bitter rivals, Real Madrid 1-3 in the Camp Nou and a 1-2 defeat to Madrid five days later in the league.
More worrying still is the fact Madrid played as Milan can be expected to play: Pressing the ball as Barca look to play it from the back, closing down spaces in midfield and defence and then looking to attack at pace.
Meanwhile Barcelona continued to leak goals, with the Madrid match the 12th successive game they have failed to keep a clean sheet.
That run came to an end Saturday with a 2-0 win at home to Deportivo la Coruna, but it would be a brave man who saw that as an indicator of improved defensive security given that Deportivo are rock bottom in Spain and failed to have a shot on target in the entire 90 minutes.
Jordi Roura, still in charge while Tito Vilanova is undergoing treatment for cancer in New York rang the changes, but Barca still looked sluggish and the only squad player who made a case for starting Tuesday was Alexis Sanchez, who scored the first goal and set up Messi for the second of the win.
Vilanova could be a factor in the game, with the front page of Monday`s El Mundo Deportivo newspaper effectively sending out the message `win it for Tito`. And there is a feeling that should Barca progress, they will be a different beast in the next round with Vilanova at the helm.
Meanwhile Xavi Hernandez will drag his vulnerable hamstring back into action and start in midfield alongside Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta.
Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba return in defence while Messi, Pedro Rodriguez and possibly Alexis are in attack.
AC Milan travel without pacey striker Pazzini, who was hurt at the weekend playing against Genova and that is a plus for Barca, taking away a player who caused them problems three weeks ago.