As if this game needs a preamble! Milan and Barcelona, Europe’s two best teams, are about to meet in the Champions League final in Athens. It’s the world’s best defence against the world’s best attack – or it would be if Milan were not without their suspended centre-backs Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta. That, and the recent form of both teams, means that most pundits have an increasingly strong fancy for Barcelona tonight.
Milan have had a strange old season. For the third year in a row they won Serie A at a canter, a heck of an achievement in Europe’s strongest league. No team had won three in a row since the immortal Torino side of the 1940s. But they did a lot of it in binary – exactly half their league games finished 0-0 or 1-0 to Milan, and their level of popularity in Italy makes George Graham’s Arsenal seem like England’s darlings by comparison.
Boring Boring Milan scored only 36 goals in 34 games, conceding 15. Yet they still won the title so easily that they could sleepwalk over the line. They failed to win any of their last six games and finished the domestic season with an embarrassing 1-0 defeat at home to Reggiana.
By contrast, Barcelona produced a blistering run of form to break the hearts of all connected with Deportivo La Coruna. Johan Cruyff’s team will still be high on Saturday’s astonishing title victory: it was their fourth in a row, a club record, and was sealed when that tame last-minute penalty from Deportivo’s Miroslav Djukic was saved by Valencia’s Santiago Canizares.
That 6-3 walloping at Real Zaragoza in mid-February was a blessing in a very humiliating disguise. Since then, Barcelona’s record in La Liga and the European Cup is P20 W17 D3 L0 F59 Awho cares how many concede when you score that many.
Milan’s lack of goals is partly down to the sad absence of Marco van Basten, who hasn’t played since the European Cup final defeat to Marseille a year ago. Stefano Eranio is also injured, while there are doubts about Zvonimir Boban; if he is unfit, Brian Laudrup will take his place on the right wing.
The other Laudrup, Barcelona’s Danish genius Michael, misses out because of the three-foreigner rule, as does Milan’s Jean-Pierre Papin. A lot of attacking talent will be on the sidelines tonight. But it’s the absence of two defenders that could prove decisive.
Kick off: 7.15pm BST on 18 May 1994, and on 13 May 2020