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Mar 12, 2013

Barca look to spring a surprise

Barcelona's coaching team may have a trick up their sleeve for Tuesday night's Champions League last-16 clash with AC Milan as they aim to become the first team ever to overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit since the competition's format changed in 1992.

• Hunter: Xavi brings fresh perspective
• Barcelona blog: Believe!
• Milan blog: Camp Nou awaits

With playmaker Xavi Hernandez looking certain to return from his recent hamstring problem, it had looked like the only selection decision for coach Tito Vilanova and assistant Jordi Roura was whether to start Cesc Fabregas or Alexis Sanchez, with Andres Iniesta then playing either on the wing or in midfield.

However, some in Catalonia have suggested that, with Barca needing to score at least twice to progress, Vilanova and Roura could decide on a three-man back-line, with captain Carles Puyol left on the bench.

Mundo Deportivo's projected XI for the game on Tuesday morning had Javier Mascherano alongside Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba at the back, with Dani Alves pushed up on the right, and Cristian Tello on the other wing. Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez were left out of this line-up, which had Alexis Sanchez at centre-forward, and Lionel Messi as a mediapunta, or No. 10.

Asked about the different tactical options available at Monday's pre-game press conference, Roura suggested the team could change shape mid-game if the situation required it, while centre-half Pique said there were pros and cons to playing a three-man defence.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to playing with three at the back," Pique said. "It is a decision for Tito and Jordi. We are used to playing one way or the other. With 3-4-3 we are more attacking, but we suffer more at the back. With 4-3-3 we control the game better, but we lack that mediapunta. We will see."

Meanwhile, former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi said in a webchat with El Pais readers on Monday that Barca's main problem looked physical rather tactical.

"Barca have a problem," Sacchi said. "The team seems tired, without energy. Playing in a league so uncompetitive, they are unprepared. One player (Messi) cannot decide everything - it must be the team. Barca are playing very slow football. They hardly press their opponents or make runs off the ball. They all want the ball to feet. Nevertheless, I do not believe they need to change their style to put in a forward."

Milan could take advantage of this lethargy by putting pressure on Barca players once they entered the opposition half, Sacchi suggested.

"Barca will only have a chance if Milan are scared and stay back near their own box," he said. "That will give life to an exhausted opponent. Milan must do the same as in Milan - play with pace and press the Barca players hard 20 metres from the halfway line. There they must form a human wall."

Sacchi, whose Rossoneri side won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990, said there were similarities between his Milan team and the Barcelona side built by Pep Guardiola as both teams were always on the move.

"Milan evolved in one way, and Barca in another," he said, "but the idea is the same - total football. All the players must be in permanent movement, with the ball or without it. Movement is fundamental. At the moment, the current Barca is lacking this movement."

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