FC Barcelona and AC Milan fought out an intense 0-0 draw at the San Siro tonight in the Champions League quarter final first leg. Barça dominated the game for long periods but failed to find the away goal. A poor pitch surface made the game difficult for both sets of players and the defences came out on top. The Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson ignored two possible penalties on Alexis and Puyol and now the sides will have to battle it out at Camp Nou to break the deadlock next Tuesday to see who wins a place in the semi-finals.
Pep Guardiola went for Keita in midfield over Fabregas but the rest of the team was as expected with a defence of four and with Iniesta playing wide on the left of attack. The intention was to control the game more and in general we did, though we lacked that surprise element that Cesc might have given us.
However conservative our line up may have been (and I’m only using the word conservative in relation to how we usually play) we still suffered under the initial rush from Milan and after just two minutes Busquets gave the ball away in a dangerous position which led to Robinho having a clear cut chance from about eight yards out but the Brazilian striker hooked his shot well over.
The first obvious sign of how bad the pitch was came in the sixth minute when Messi slipped taking a free kick, the ball bounced on towards the far post where Keita might have scored if had got more contact on his header. Barça began to take control, in the 9th minute Alves won the ball back and Xavi moved it on to Messi on the left, his low shot was not held by Abbiati but Alves couldn’t quite get to the rebound.
In the 14th minute we won a free kick as Ambrosini scythed into Messi. Instead of shooting Xavi played the free kick fast to Busquets on the edge of the area and his touch sent in Alexis and as the Chilean knocked the ball round Abbiati he went to ground. Our players appealed for the penalty though Alexis looked liked he may have dived as he was losing balance.
Messi had a goal ruled out for clear offside but Barça appeared to be in control. Then Milan demonstrated just how dangerous they can be with a counter which ended with Seedorf setting up Ibrahimovic and Valdés came to the rescue with a low save to his left. Barça had had more attacks but the two best chances after 20 minutes had gone to Milan. Zlatan then showed his skill to get past Piqué on the left but Puyol was on hand to clear the cross.
The danger was clear and we needed excellent performances from then on from both Piqué and Mascherano to keep Milan’s forwards quiet. In the meantime we kept trying to find a way through and with Messi often crowded out it was Xavi who created most danger, in the 26th minute he made a fine dribble before bouncing a pass off Messi and Abbiati had to save well to his right from our midfielder’s low shot. Next Xavi had a shot blocked by Nesta after Alexis’s back heel though it seems Alexis didn’t realize what a good position he was in if he had turned to shoot himself.
Alexis had another chance soon after when he chased a long ball over the top, bearing down on the goal he looked like being fastest but Antonini made it back to slide across and block. Seedorf had a half chance with a volley but he hit it straight at Valdés and a breathless first half ended with Iniesta hitting one wide and Xavi firing one over.
The chances dried up somewhat in the second half and the game became more notable for the yellow cards that might have been given to Messi, Keita and Boateng. Ambrosini either tried to make a poor joke with Messi or perhaps he simply wanted to wind him up when Messi was putting on his boots. Not quite sure what he was thinking if he believes that Messi could be intimidated like this. The yellow card had to come out after Nesta’s awful lunge on Messi and there could not have been too many complaints if the colour was red.
Both teams made substitutions and Urby Emanuelson might have made a name for himself just seconds after coming on but his very first touch failed him and the chance was gone. Barça looked to Tello to provide the spark and the youngster was soon involved though with Milan defending deeply there was little room for him to attack. The first time Tello went past his man he then shot into the side-netting and earned himself a bollocking from Messi. In the 77th minute he pulled the ball back to Messi but the shot was deflected by Ambrosini for a corner. Xavi swung the ball in from the left and Puyol, while getting pulled back at the near post, dived and sent a header just wide of the far post. Perhaps if Puyol had not got his head to the ball the ref might have seen the shirt-pulling, perhaps not.
As the game entered the final ten minutes it was Barça looking more likely to score. Tello went past his man again but was stopped by Abbiati diving at his feet, Milan were defending deep but they were defending very well. Messi had one last chance to win it five minutes from the end but Abbiati again came to the rescue pushing the ball out invitingly in the direction of Tello, our youngster sped in and the goal looked as if it would finally come but Antonini managed to get across the goal and slide in to block.
Considering the pitch and the level of our opponents we should be satisfied with our performance if slightly disappointed with the result. Yes, a 0-0 away from home should be seen as favourable and it is certainly much better than the 3-1 defeat we suffered against Inter two years ago. Milan had very few chances though the game might have been different if Robinho or Ibra had converted one of those chances in the first twenty minutes. We will still be favourites to go through though with Milan we are going to have to be very very careful. We dominated in the group stage match at Camp Nou only to be stunned by Thiago Silva last minute equalizer. A repeat of that 2-2 draw in September will see us eliminated. We will have to be more decisive and sharper in front of goal, I imagine we will follow a familiar pattern of Barça dominating and Milan try to hit us on the break. It is going to be an incredibly tense 90 minutes. Will we rise to the occasion?
Milan: Abbiati; Bonera, Mexès, Nesta (Mesbah m74), Antonini; Ambrosini, Nocerino, Seedorf; Boateng (Emanuelson m67); Ibrahimovic, Robinho (El Shaarawy m52).
Barça: Valdés 7.5; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 8.5, Piqué 8, Puyol 7.5; Busquets 6.5, Xavi 7, Keita 6.5; Alexis 6.5 (Pedro m76, 6), Messi 6.5, Iniesta 6 (Tello m65, 6).
Yellow cards: m23 Seedorf, m57 Nesta, m61 Keita, m69 Ambrosini