Milan, deserved winners; Barça and Messi, very disappointing

Posted on February 20, 2013 11:56 pm

Milan pulled today one of the biggest surprises in a while in the Champions League. If you look player by player, the Rossoneri squad is not even close to Barcelona’s, however, a strong collective effort, a little luck and a terrible match by the Catalans ended up with a result that, while not necessarily fair, was a deserve punishment for a totally unambitious culé side at San Siro.

In the first half very little happened. Barcelona controlled possession almost completely, while Milan, with a totally misleading 4-3-3, was devoted more to close gaps in their own side and preventing Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and company from feeling comfortable. In fact, the best Barça player in the first half was probably Pedro, who seemed to be the only one capable of creating trouble to a Milan side that was happy putting all its players behind the ball, starting with Boateng and El Shaarawy, who usually ended up as side backs instead of wingers.

Actually, what was really surprising was Barcelona’s lack of ambition. Jordi Roura’s boys seemed content to pass the ball from side to side and go home with the 0-0 to finish the in the return leg. The Italians, meanwhile, did not dare to leave their defensive stance. Neither side merited to get an edge in the first forty-five minutes, or even at the beginning of the second half, which started in the same way.

Everything changed when Milan bumped into a goal. A free kick close to the Barça goal ended up in a Montolivo shot that bounced off the hand of Zapata to Boateng’s feet the Ghanaian slotted it home with an excellent shot, opening the mark. A key goal, with a high percentage of luck, no doubt. After the goal, the social networks exploded saying it should have been disallowed, but they were wrong. The rules are very clear. If there is intention, it should be punished, if there’s none, it shouldn’t. It is very clear that the Colombian defender wants to get out of the shot and the ball bounced at him at very short range making it impossible to get away from the ball. If Milan took advantage of the handball or not, if the handball was clear or not, it doesn’t matter. No intention, no whistle, as simple as that.

Thereafter, Barcelona completely faded, especially Lionel Messi. The weak spot of the best player in the world is when he gets desperate and wants to win games on his own. It hadn’t happened since the return leg of last year’s Champions League semi-finals against Chelsea, but he was at his worst once again tonight. He drifted too deep to get the ball, and refused to pass it. Again and again he tried to dribble past four or five opponents, and always ended up losing the ball.

Barcelona have become so used to rely so heavily on their great idol that when he’s on a bad night they are left without any alternatives, especially as Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were not much better either. Iniesta also played his own game, without thinking of his teammates and the number 6 played as if the goals were on each side of the pitch. Barça’s first shot was a good Iniesta effort… at the 75th minute!! Meanwhile, Milan sat back and waited for their chance to give the death blow in a counterattack.

And that’s exactly what happened. After a counter, an exceptional pass by El Shaarawi was finished perfectly by Muntari. The Rossoneri won the only way a less talented team can beat the Catalans, by being very supportive in defense and finishing their few chances.

Barcelona now faces a very similar scenario than the one they faced against Mourinho‘s Inter and Chelsea in the last edition of the Champions League. Both times they weren’t able to overcome the disadvantage. Theu will need to play a perfect match and Messi must understand that to do that, he must trust your talented peers. Otherwise, the history will be repeated.

About Martin del Palacio

My name is Martín del Palacio Langer, I live in Barcelona and I'm a freelance contributor to FIFA.com, World Soccer magazine, Kicker, MedioTiempo.com, PasionSports and some other publications around the world. I love the tactical and statistical side of football but understand that passion is the most important ingredient in the game. Hope you enjoy this blog and feel free to contact me in the comments section or in www.twitter.com/martindelpENG (for English) and www.twitter.com/martindelp (for Spanish)
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