Test of character for Barca

Test of character for Barca

Spanish side hopes Messi comes good against Milan; Schalke test for Galatasaray

Lionel Messi has often said personal accolades are secondary to the fortunes of the team and Barcelona’s Argentina forward would probably swap all four of his World Player of the Year awards for a comeback success against AC Milan on Tuesday.

Barca’s hopes of a third Champions League crown in five years are hanging by a thread after Milan surprised them 2-0 at the San Siro in last month’s last-16, first leg.
If the pre-tournament favourites are to get past the Serie A side into the quarterfinals, Messi will surely have to be on song.

He and his team-mates will also need to reverse a slump in key games after they were beaten twice in five days by arch rivals Real Madrid following the reverse in Italy.
Messi, well shackled by Milan in the first leg, claimed another record on Saturday when he came off the bench and scored for a 17th consecutive La Liga game in a 2-0 victory for the leaders at home to bottom side Deportivo La Coruna.

Barca said he had set a new world best by surpassing Polish forward Teodor Pewterek, scorer of 22 goals in 16 straight outings for Ruch Chorzow at the end of the 1930s. Messi has netted 27 on his prolific run.

Some have questioned his form of late but it was his 40th goal of the La Liga campaign and his 51st in 41 appearances in all competitions, including five in the Champions League.

He is the top scorer in Europe’s elite club competition the past four seasons.
Producing the goods on the biggest occasions is what counts, though, and the 25-year-old has been overshadowed in recent weeks by Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese scored the goal against his former club Manchester United on Tuesday that sent Real through to the Champions League last eight and netted twice to help eliminate Barca from the King’s Cup at the end of last month.

A significant positive from Barca’s La Liga win on Saturday was that they kept a clean sheet for the first time in 14 outings and a repeat performance will likely be crucial on Tuesday at the Nou Camp.

Barca also rested a slew of key players to keep them fresh for the Milan showdown.
Assistant coach Jordi Roura, standing in for Tito Vilanova while he undergoes cancer treatment in New York, deployed Messi only for the final half hour.

He gave Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets a runout in the second half but centre back Gerard Pique, fullback Jordi Alba and forward Pedro did not feature.

Barca are also expecting to have playmaker Xavi available after he returned to training this week following a minor muscle strain. However, Vilanova will again be absent from the bench and it is hard not to attribute at least part of Barca's recent dip in form to their coach’s enforced exile.

Milan warmed up for the trip to Spain with a hard-fought 2-0 win at Serie A rivals Genoa on Friday. Victory came at a cost, however, and the club said on Sunday goalscorer Giampaolo Pazzini had sustained a micro-fracture in his right fibula and was out of the Barca game.

Barcelona have not lost a European tie at home for more than three years and knocked Milan out in last season’s quarterfinals, their 16th meeting, and in the 2005-06 semifinals.
History is against them, however, as no team has ever overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit without the benefit of an away goal.

Barca will hope to emulate Depor, who lost 4-1 at Milan in the 2003-04 quarterfinals but beat them 4-0 in the return leg, the biggest first-leg victory overturned in Champions League history.

Schalke confident

Schalke 04 head into Tuesday’s clash against Turkey’s Galatasaray fuelled with confidence after beating German champions Borussia Dortmund but will be without key striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

The Dutchman partially tore a ligament in the Ruhr valley derby on Saturday after a collision with his own keeper and has been ruled out for some weeks, but will not need surgery.

His absence, however, could prove vital as Schalke look to advance after their last-16, first-leg 1-1 draw in Istanbul.

For club bosses, however, victory over Dortmund in Germany’s biggest derby overshadowed the bad news of Huntelaar’s injury and was exactly the boost Schalke needed after a bad run.

Schalke have enjoyed a rollercoaster season that has left the club with only the Champions League title to fight for.

They began well and stayed close to leaders Bayern Munich until late in the year when they imploded, exiting the German Cup and dropping down the table. Their win on Saturday was their third straight success after a miserable run of one victory in their previous 11 matches.

Schalke, who together with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund are the only undefeated teams left in the competition, last made it to the last eight in 2011 on their way to the semifinal of Europe’s premier club competition.