Champions League: AC Milan 2 Barça 3

Futbol Club Barcelona confirmed top spot in Group H with a magnificent 2-3 win at the San Siro tonight. Both teams came out to attack from the beginning and we were treated to a thrilling game of end-to-end football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was billed as one of the stars before the game and he didn’t disappoint scoring Milan’s first equalizer after Marc Van Bommel had opened the scoring in his own net. Leo Messi restored Barça’s lead with a twice-taken penalty just before half time but Milan equalized with the goal of the night from Kevin Prince Boateng. However, the last laugh went to Xavi Hernandez, who capped a fine performance with the winner and Barça can now rest players for the final group match against BATE Borisov which takes place just before our visit to the Bernabeu.

I had argued in my match preview that Guardiola could go with a defence of three and that was indeed the case with Puyol to the right and Abidal to the left of Mascherano sweeping. However, the case for 3-4-3 is strongest when it leaves Fabregas and Messi to work their magic through the middle so I was disappointed when Messi started on the right. Milan started enthusiastically pinning us back in our half for the first three minutes but then as soon as we got forward Villa had a chance after Thiago cleverly left Messi’s past but the Asturian shot well over. With both teams playing the pressing game we were treated to some fantastic fast one touch passing and it looked quite risky at times as we played our way out from the back. Milan also posed the aerial threat and the first high ball in to Ibrahimovic ended with Thiago heading back dangerously to Valdés.

After about twelve minutes Thiago switched to the right which meant Messi came inside. Almost immediately the move brought results as Thiago did well to maintain possession by the corner flag, the ball came back to Cesc and then on to Messi who spotted Keita’s surge forward on the left, when Keita received Messi’s pass he sent a low ball across goal which Xavi would surely have converted if ex-blaugrana Marc Van Bommel hadn’t got there first to nudge the ball over his own goalline.

We might easily have made it two a couple of minutes later when Thiago went on a tricky run into the area before finding the pass through to Fabregas who volleyed goalwards only to be denied by Abbiati’s legs. Milan then came back at us with Ibra twice causing problems with crosses from the left, the second time the ball came back across from Boateng on the right and Robinho four yards out could only turn the ball over the crossbar. Milan kept pushing, Seedorf received a long ball out on the left where Puyol had given him a little room, Seedorf controlled quickly and sent the ball into Ibrahimovic, Busquets and Mascherano couldn’t react in time and Ibra swung the ball past Valdés for the equalizer.

At the point the speed of incidence was so fast it was difficult to keep up. In the 22nd minute Xavi held on long enough to create room for Cesc whose cross found Messi three yards out but somehow Messi’s touch hit Abate and the ball flew up and clipped the bar on the way over. The pressure again was now all coming from Barça as Villa headed wide and Abate robbed Messi in a dangerous position. In the 29th minute Xavi made another run into the area as Cesc flicked the ball into space, as Xavi honed in Alquilani pulled him back and a penalty was awarded. Alquilani should have been sent off for his second yellow card but Nesta fooled the ref into thinking he was the culprit and he took the yellow card instead. Messi’s penalty was deemed illegal for some reason as he dummied during his run-up but I honestly can not understand how this can deserve a yellow card. Messi was unruffled by it all and stepped up again to fire past Abbiati’s dive.

Again we could have followed our goal with another quick one, Messi set off like an arrow for the area before slipping the ball left to Villa who shot but was desperately unlucky to see Abbiati’s  arm deflect the ball down onto the ground before bouncing up over the bar. The reply from Milan was a poor shot wide from Boateng and then Messi went on one of his impossible dribbles into the area but his shot was saved by the diving Abbiati. Milan finished the half strongly forcing cards on Mascherano and Puyol, while Keita took one between the legs in the line of duty to block a goalbound effort. The half ended with Thiago Silve heading a corner just wide in what would have been a carbon copy of his equalizer at Camp Nou.

Barça began the second half more strongly and there was a pretty clear penalty on Cesc not given by the referee. Messi had a shot into the side-netting after a good cross from Cesc and Villa had another effort wide. Milan reacted with a tremendous goal out of the blue. Mascherano headed the ball away and Boateng leapt acrobatically to control the ball before beating Abidal with a delightful flick and driving low past Valdés at his near post. Were Barça deterred? Was there any move to sit back and hold on for a valuable draw? No. We went straight back at Milan and within ten minutes we were back in the lead when Xavi made yet another well timed dart into the area to get on to Messi’s pass to fire low past Abbiati into the corner.

Perhaps the intensity dropped in the last half an hour as Milan tired and Barça looked to control things. Alexis and Pedro came on to continue the chasing up front and Milan struggled to cause more danger. Alexis and Puyol couldn’t force home Thiago’s curled free kick and Xavi couldn’t quite emulate Messi with a dribble through the middle. Seedorf who had a fine game for Milan caused us a few worries near the end with a dangerous centre but apart from that we held out without too many problems, in the last minute Busquets did well to stretch to cut out a through ball and that was that.

This was a highly enjoyably game and a great advert for the game. What other team would go to Milan and play a defence of three. It led to a very open game and Milan should take credit for coming out to try and attack us. I was especially pleased with Xavi tonight as it has been a while since he has had a really good game. The defence had their moments of doubts and I can recall mistakes from each of our defenders however I thought on the whole they were splendid in particular Carles Puyol who gave a captain’s fighting performance. This is an excellent warm-up for the game coming up in Madrid, but before then we have four more games starting at Getafe on Saturday. Visca el Barça!

Milan: Abbiati; Zambrotta, Nesta (Bonera m66), Thiago Silva, Abate; Van Bommel (Nocerino m72), Seedorf, Aquilani, Boateng; Ibrahimovic, Robinho (m45 Pato)

Barça: Valdés 6.5; Puyol 8, Mascherano 7, Abidal 7; Busquets 7, Xavi 8, Keita 7.5, Fabregas 7.5 (Pedro m80, 6); Thiago 7 (Dos Santos m91, –), Messi 8, Villa 6.5 (Alexis m67, 7).

Goals: m14 Van Bommel (o.g.) 0-1, m19 Ibrahimovic 1-1, m30 Messi (pen) 1-2, m53 Boateng 2-2, m63 Xavi 2-3.

Yellow cards: m24 Alquilani, m29 Nesta, m31 Messi, m34 Van Bommel, m43 Puyol, m45+2 Abidal, m85 Mascherano, m86 Zambrotta

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14 Responses to Champions League: AC Milan 2 Barça 3

  1. barcacentralroger says:

    Ha ha! Was that a pointed reference to your last post regarding the selection for defence? I did say Puyol would play on the right and I thought Busquets was playing pretty deep at times and almost made it a back four… 😉

    Great write up though and loved the game. The one point I’d emphasise is quite how bad a refereeing job I thought Wolfgang Stark did – often you decry the ref when there is a mistake that severely impacts the outcome of the match, but tonight it was as much just inconsistency, too much leniency on tough tackles, alongside something that did effect the match: awarding a yellow card rather than red for the foul on Xavi that resulted in the penalty AND giving that yellow card to the wrong player (the correct player already having one yellow so would have been sent off DESPITE the former bad judgement call). The sky commentators were suggesting that Stark had not done himself any favours towards being in contention for any of the big remaining Champions League fixtures nor for being Germany’s representative at the Euros next summer. Shame, I think he’s normally pretty good, but perhaps because the outcome was not too serious (either side could have won or lost and not been too put out) he erred too much towards keeping 22 men on the pitch. Just glad we had no injuries.

  2. layibiyi says:

    that was definitely one of the greatest match previews of all time….getting the tactics, the scores, the tempo right… were a real wizard for that, nic

  3. Caleb says:

    I thought Busi was holding pretty deep, too. It felt really close to a back four to me as well… The referee was wretched. Missed calls, big and small, and seemed afraid to made the correct but uncomfortable decisions.

    Our finishing needs to be better and AC Milan definitely made our defense look shaky. For me there is no way I’d rate Keita’s performance above Thiago’s. Keita had quite a few off passes, some of which made me quite nervous. I thought Thiago had a great performance. Lost his cool a couple times (his nose paid for it once), but overall really good.

    It’s funny. A few times Messi had a half-a-yard of space and defenders (I can remember one time specifically it was Zambrotta) would catch up to him. I don’t know if it is just a bit of a bad touch from Messi but I hope he’s not losing that burst that gets him away from defenders after he’s beat them. I thought Messi was off for the first half but started looking quite a bit better towards the end of the game (read: I don’t think Messi was an 8 tonight).

    In the end, though, it was a really great win and a very exciting match. My hat goes off to Milan for coming out to play. I also thought Ibra conducted himself quite well.

  4. bc9jaCulé says:

    I’m sure we were all treated to an excellent masterpiece of CL football last night. Both sides gave a good account of themselves and ultimately, my Barça, our Barça, prevailed.

    And may I add, that was Xavi’s best performance so far this season IMHO. I mean, he was everywhere, making excellent REAL-TIME passes and runs, involved in all the goals and even pulling through with some audacious dribbles — Xavi and Iniesta rolled into one if you ask me. Now that’s exactly what I’ve been clamouring for from Xavi when in the opposition’s final third — electric, tip-tap, fast-flowing and direct tiki-taka football.

    Overall, the entire team played pretty well and Messi was simply influential as usual.

    Nic, how were you able to hack into Guardiola’s head about the tactics, formation and even a bonus of the right prediction of the scoreline? It was almost as though you had lunch with Pep before posting the match preview. There’s only one word to describe that — GE’NIC’US!!!

    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  5. barcacentralnic says:

    Zonal Marking’s take on the game –
    Some interesting diagrams and analysis on the Busquets role and position, and they also mention the early switch with Thiago moving out right and Messi coming inside.

  6. layibiyi says:

    i’ve stayed off criticizing pep for using the 343 and we dropping points because i dont want to be one of the guys that was eventually shut up…it might cost us important games or it might lead us to great victories. key is that i believe in pep.

    I have a feeling he is considering it against madrid…

  7. layibiyi says:

    zonalmarking always on point….

  8. barcacentralnic says:

    I’m glad we played the 3-4-3 in this match and I think from how Milan play it made sense. However, I think there are plenty of drawbacks, it seems to work best against teams that play without too much width such as Milan and Villarreal, I don’t believe it is a system that is best for Dani Alves who can attack much better from the traditional RB in a defence of 4, and I also think it’s not suited to Gerard Piqué. I’m sure it is no coincidence we haven’t seen him yet in a defence of 3. The best bet is the three we saw yesterday who at least are all quick as they need to cover a lot of ground between them though we didn’t look too comfortable at the back and after seeing our first half at Valencia I’d rather only see it in a select few games according to occasion and opponent. The big big plus of the 3-4-3 system is how it frees up our attacking midfielders. We saw the best games from Cesc against Villarreal, Osasuna and Atletico Madrid each time playing at the top of the diamond midfield in the 3-4-3 or 3-1-2-1-3, and yesterday it was Xavi who found the channels to exploit. It makes for some thrilling football but I feel it is a system that will eventually lose us more points as it has more risks. In a league where Real Madrid are unlikely to drop many points I think the 4-3-3 gives us more stability and consistency. With the way our full backs get forward with the 4-3-3 it is very often looks even more attacking, and I do love to see Alves storming up and down

  9. layibiyi says:

    i’m sure he and many analysts are aware of all these concerns and drawbacks. They have been mentioned everywhere but it can only work out eventually with more practice of the formation…the problem is how much time do we have to practice the formation(relative to madrid)…milan’s match was a perfect opportunity…In all the other matches he has tried it, we are still in the first half of the season which are still relatively good opportunities to try it. There is no how he would try something like this around february/march or if we are like 5 points behind madrid. Yes, madrid are stronger this season but that shouldn’t deter us from trying to evolve if it is possible. It is not as if we would convert to the 3-4-3 permanently but after getting fabregas and having more world-class midfielders than any team, it can give us an opportunity to make use of this advantage whenever possible(if it has been perfected that is).

    like Zonalmarking rounded up: ‘Guardiola likes the 3-4-3 and wants to evolve, but Barca need more work to play this way against Europe’s best’

  10. Lee says:

    Good game (not great, I thought), great preview, though. I didn’t think Puyol played that well and was surprised at the 8 you gave him. I love the man, but I think he’s lost a step or two due to inaction. Thiago on other hand played incredibly, especially in the first half. I worry about Pedro, who I have always liked but who can’t seem to find a rhythm in this hyper-competitive line-up. Cesc had another strong game and was involved in so many opportunities. Messi was Messi. Villa unfortunately was Villa, by which I mean the player we’ve come more and more to know. He’s on borrowed time, I think. I feel bad for him being played out of position. Xavi, as stated, was incredible. I had to watch the game without volume in a sports bars (a hockey game blaring) so maybe that’s why it didn’t seem so exciting to me. Anyway nice calls in the preview!

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