Soccer: Milan ponder how to stop Messi

Berlusconi suggests putting two markers on Argentine ace

Soccer: Milan ponder how to stop Messi

Rome, February 19 - The build-up to AC Milan's Champions League last-16 first leg against Bercelona at the San Siro Stadium on Wednesday has been dominated by one question - how to stop Argentine ace Lionel Messi? Many have tried, but few have succeeded, as shown by the 25-year-old crossing the 300-goal mark for Barcelona with his double in Saturday's 2-1 win at Granada in the Spanish top flight. Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi's solution is simple - mark Messi out of the game. The three-time Italian premier first suggested putting a man marker on the four-time Ballon d'Or winner on Monday. The idea was dismissed by several figures in the game, including Juventus boss Antonio Conte, who said a "rifle" was needed to stop Messi, who is arguably the best dribbler the sport has seen, not man-marking. So former Italian premier Berlusconi, who is leading the centre right's campaign for next Sunday and Monday's general election, upped the ante on the day before the game by suggesting two men keep tabs in him. 'You stop Messi with two men on top of him,' Berlusconi told Radio 105. 'Maybe you have one player each half. If one gets too tired, the other takes over,' he added later on one of his Mediaset TV channels. 'A special tactic is needed against Barcelona, which can be done by one person or sometimes two'. Berlusconi added that French midfielder Mathieu Flamini could mark the danger man with the help of Ghanaian teammate Sulley Muntari, although this part of his plan took a setback when the team doctor said Flamini has a physical problem. Fellow midfielder Antonio Nocerino is a doubt too because of a minor leg-muscle strain. While some pundits said the flaw in Berlusconi's logic is that Messi will escape from his markers anyway, others pointed out that Barca, who are 12 points clear at the top of the Spanish first division, are not a one-man show. Among them is Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, who thanked Berlusconi for his tips, but did not promise to use them. 'It's clear that I see the squad every day and I'll give the lads their instructions on how best to face Barcelona,' the coach told a press conference. 'Messi makes a difference (for his team) but he's not the only one. '(Spain midfielder Andres) Iniesta is one of the best assist providers in the world. We'll have to be good at marking them and limiting them'. Milan endured a tough start to the season after selling their best players, Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazil defender Thiago Silva, to Paris Saint Germain in the close season. They have been revitalised by the arrival of Mario Balotelli, who has scored four goals in three games since moving from Manchester City last month. But they are unable to field the Italy striker against Barca as he has played for English champions City in the competition earlier in the season. The good news for Allegri is that 20-year-old Italy striker Stephan El Shaarawy, Milan's top scorer with 15 Serie A goals this season, should be able to play after a knee knock. 'We are playing against the best in the world and we have to create the conditions to go beyond the last 16, while being aware that on average Barcelona have 65% of the possession, whether they are playing against Real Madrid, Milan or anyone else,' said Allegri. 'We have to try to make their possession a little more sterile because they have players who are quite good'. Allegri's men were knocked out by Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season after facing them twice in the group stage - drawing one game and losing the other. Milan can take heart from the memory of the 1994 European Cup final, when Milan thrashed the sweet-passing 'dream team' Barcelona side trained by Johan Cruyff 4-0.

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