ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT & Opta, available now – to preview Wednesday night's Champions League action...
AC Milan v Barcelona, Wed 19:45Barcelona have already played Milan in the group stage this season, when they slipped to a rare draw at the Nou Camp, before winning 3-2 away at the San Siro.
The key player in the away win was inevitably Leo Messi. He played an interesting role in the 3-4-3 shape Barcelona were playing that day, constantly drifting away to the right of the pitch, almost into his old role on the right of a three-man attack. With Milan playing a narrow 4-3-1-2 system, Messi often found room on either side of their three-man central midfield, picking the ball up in space before driving at the defence.
From there, he continually tried to slip the ball through the defence into the path of a player on the left side of Barça’s attack – indeed, he set up one goal for Xavi Hernandez through this route, and it’s something Milan should be aware of going into this tie.
Marseille v Bayern Munich, Wed 19:45Everyone knows Bayern’s main attacking threat in the Champions League: their two wingers, with Arjen Robben on the right and Franck Ribery on the left, both coming inside onto their strong foot. Mario Gomez may have hit the headlines with four goals in the stunning 7-0 win over Basel in the last round, but it was the two wingers who were the key players and created most of his chances.
The two players have very different passing styles. Ribery is more likely to play a vertical pass backwards to a full-back, or down the line for an overlapping run. He also sends crossfield passes out to the opposite flank, either for Robben staying wide, or Philipp Lahm motoring forward on the overlap.
Marseille will be prepared for the threat of both players, and are likely to defend narrow to prevent the duo coming inside and shooting. However, they should beware that both are capable of going down the line and playing a pull-back into the box, even with their weaker foot. It’s easy to say that Ribery and Robben should be shown down the line, but if Cesar Azpilicueta and Jeremy Morel do that too much, the wingers will enjoy the space on the flanks.
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