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