Barça’s defence of the Champions League got off to a disappointing start at Camp Nou tonight as a last gasp goal from Thiago Silva stole a draw for Milan. Goals from Pedro and David Villa looked like giving us victory after we had fought back from conceding a goal after just 25 seconds, but our failure to secure a third goal when Milan were looking somewhat weary allowed the Italian champions to stay in the game and Thiago rose above everybody in injury time to head home Clarence Seedorf’s corner. The draw was not the worst news of the night however, that is reserved for the injury to Andres Iniesta which could see him out for 4-5 weeks.
The early goal from Pato was always going to make things complicated. We had only just started when Pato got the ball in midfield, he then knocked it into the space behind our defence and stormed after it leaving Busquets floundering, Valdés came out but for once failed in the one-on-one as Pato slipped the ball under him. It was too early to see if we were playing with a back three or whether Alves’s more forward role in the first half came as a result of going behind. Whatever the case Busquets’ lack of pace was cruelly exposed and questions will again be asked about the suitability of playing him in central defence.
It took a while for us to find our shape and there were a couple more times early on that Pato’s pace might have embarrassed us. At the other end Villa fired into the side netting and then Messi made his first run and forced his first save from Abbiati in the 14th minute. Messi then came close curling a free kick onto the outside of the post but generally our attacks were not coming to much, often due to Alves not making more of good positions. The final pass wasn’t coming from Xavi while Iniesta’s runs were coming to nothing. Messi was being shadowed a lot by Seedorf but as the half progressed he began to find more space. In the 30th minute Alves found Messi in the area but under pressure and with little angle he couldn’t find a space between Abbiati and his near post. Messi then had another run and shot but this time Abbiati saved easily but Messi was just warming up. He got it right in the 36th minute when he finally found the space to slip the ball behind Abate, sprinting after it before sending a tantalising ball across the face of the open goal for Pedro just to reach first to prod home. Xavi came close on the stroke of half time but his shot from outside the area went just wide.
The second half began with another long effort from Xavi but this time Abbiati had to dive to tip away for a corner. Then in the 49th minute Busquets surged forward only to be fouled by Cassano 30 yards from goal. David Villa has been in for a fair bit of criticism recently especially after his awful mistake against Real Sociedad, but he responded with a beautifully curled free kick over the wall that dipped out of Abbiati’s reach and into the corner.
With the lead we always look more comfortable and we began knocking the ball about in typical style. Messi had another great run into the box but Nesta demonstrated why he is such a good defender by staying with Messi all the way to deny him with a last ditch tackle. Our domination of the ball during this period was all very well but our lack of incisiveness here would prove costly at the end. We had a couple more free kicks in good positions but neither Messi nor Xavi could emulate Villa. Milan gave us just about as good a warning as they could in the 72nd minute when Seedorf’s corner fould Pato unmarked but his downward header lacked power and Valdés gathered easily. It was to prove almost a carbon copy of Milan’s late equaliser. It shouldn’t have come to this as Afellay missed an excellent chance to make it 3-1 in the 88th minute but his side-footed shot lacked conviction and hit a defender. Also, the referee might have given a foul on Eric Abidal as he was harried into giving away a late corner. It was not to be however, and when Seedorf swung in another straightforward corner we failed to challenge for the high ball allowing Silva the chance to head firmly past the helpless Valdés.
Oh well, I suppose we shouldn’t get too downhearted about this but after throwing away the lead in San Sebastian the lesson should be clear. The possession game is all well and good but we really need to get after teams in the moments when they are down. Today from the 50th to the 70th minute Milan looked completely out of it yet we failed to finish them off. Maybe it is just that we are still not at 100% physically and we need a few more games to really find our tempo, but the worrying thing is that perhaps we are losing our hunger a little. The news about Iniesta is disappointing but perhaps not so bad this season with Cesc or Thiago ready to step in. All this just goes to show we cannot have everything our own way, however good we may be, and we will need to keep working hard to maintain the levels to which we have become accustomed
Barça: Valdés 6; Alves 5.5, Busquets 5.5, Mascherano 6.5, Abidal 7.5; Xavi 6.5, Keita 6 (Puyol m67, 6), Iniesta 6 (Fabregas m39, 6.5); Pedro 7, Messi 7.5, Villa 6.5 (Afellay m84, 5.5).
Milan: Abbiati; Abate, Thiago Silva, Nesta, Zambrotta; Seedorf, Van Bommel (Aquilani m78), Nocerino, Boateng (Ambrosini m33); Pato, Cassano (Emanuelson m62).
Goals: m1 Pato 0-1, m36 Pedro 1-1, m50 Villa 2-1, m92 T.Silva 2-2
Yellow cards: m18 Van Bommel, m52 Villa, m57 Nesta, m70 Alves, m92 Puyol