AC Milan will not be lacking motivation when they host Barcelona on matchday three – this fixture offers not just an opportunity to leapfrog the Spanish champions at the top of Group H but also a chance of revenge for being eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by Barcelona in each of the past two seasons.
The bottom two teams in Group H, Celtic FC and AFC Ajax, will go head to head in Glasgow both desperate for a first win but equally aware of the cost of another defeat.
What to expect from the Matches
The Rossoneri have a recent history of UEFA Champions League disappointments against Barcelona to make amends for, with the Blaugrana’s victory in last season’s round of 16 completing an unwanted hat-trick alongside their 2011/12 quarter-final and 2005/06 semi-final defeats. These two famous names have squared off 17 times, Barcelona recording seven wins to Milan’s five and scoring 26 goals to the Italian side’s 21. Milan’s record in eight home outings against Barcelona reads W3 D2 L3.
Gerardo Martino’s Barcelona have maximum points at the Group H summit and know a third straight victory would open up a five-point advantage at the top. Barcelona won at Celtic on matchday two with a 76th-minute Cesc Fàbregas goal but Milan have left it even later in their games – they saw off Celtic with two goals in the last eight minutes and then needed Mario Balotelli’s added-time penalty equalizer at Ajax. Milan’s 2-0 success over Barcelona at San Siro in February was their first home win in seven attempts against Liga opposition. Their overall record against visitors from Spain is W11 D6 L6. Barcelona’s away record against Serie A teams is W6 D7 L6.
Celtic enter the game still without a point after losing to late goals against both AC Milan and Barcelona, while Ajax do have one point but will not need reminding it would have been three but for a 94th-minute Milan equaliser in Amsterdam last time out. Ajax therefore trail second-placed Milan by three points, with Celtic another point further back.
Celtic got the better of Ajax when the clubs last met in the 2000/01 third qualifying round. Ajax won the clubs’ first encounter in the 1970/71 European Champion Clubs’ Cup quarter-finals en route to lifting the trophy for the first time. Celtic still have a strong home record in UEFA competition, having won seven of their last ten European fixtures in Glasgow. This season they kept clean sheets in three successive home qualifiers and they came within 14 minutes of another shutout on matchday two until Cesc Fàbregas’s 76th-minute winner for Barcelona. Beaten 4-0 at Barcelona on matchday one, Ajax have not won any of their last five away games in the UEFA Champions League, a winless sequence stretching back to 18 October 2011 and a 2-0 success at GNK Dinamo Zagreb. Celtic’s home record against Dutch opponents is W3 D1 L1 while Ajax’s record in Scotland is W2 D1 L1.
Player to watch out for
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan): The maverick Italian will be the man to watch out for AC Milan. Balotelli scored a 76th-minute equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Armenia to ensure already-qualified Italy remained undefeated in qualifying. His outstanding ability will be key to unlocking a compact Barca defense.
Carles Puyol (Barcelona): Carles Puyol made his first appearance since March at Osasuna after recovering from knee surgery, while Javier Mascherano strained a hamstring on 24 September and was an unused replacement on Saturday. Gerardo Martino’s side have kept eight clean sheets in 13 games in all competitions this season, and Puyol will be looking to extend that run by keeping the Italians at bay.
Bojan Krkic (Ajax): The former La Masia graduate has been unable to find success since leaving Catalunya, and will be hoping to make an impact when Celtic visit Amsterdam. His finishing and skills will be crucial to unlock a stubborn Celtic defense.
Predicted Score lines & Starting line ups
AC Milan 1-2 Barcelona
Barcelona should be able to come away from Milan with a win given the strength of their team, but the Italians should definitely be able to get on the score sheet.
Celtic 2-2 Ajax
Celtic and Ajax will most likely be held to a draw. However, with Celtic playing at home it is always a possibility that they might get a win.
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