Forget about the tikki takka football, today Milan showed Barcelona how to win games by being lethal in attack and tenacious in defense.
Barcelona played Milan at the San Siro and let me just say in the beginning that the atmosphere in the ground was just electrifying. From Barcelona’s perspective, Messi knew he was in for a tough night at the Italian capital.
Barcelona started the game in typical style having a possession of 100 percent for the entire 1st minute of the game.
Barcelona attacked in the early minutes with a lot of pace with some neat quick passes. Milan was looked like playing for the counter attack from the first minute of the game.
Messi as usual was being hacked down the second he received the ball. Barcelona kept on milking the passes while Milan players kept on chasing the ball. There was a time when the entire Barcelona defense was standing in front of the half way line and to be honest that was just embarrassing to see a home team defending so deep.
I don’t know how Milan fans tolerated the display of their team in the first half tonight. It was all Barcelona from the first minute to the last. Messi did do some neat dribbles but was always thwarted by a Milan defender.
Milan basically played with 11 defenders tonight hence it was pretty difficult for Barcelona to get through them. The best chance of the game in the first half probably went to Milan (unexpectedly I might add) when El Sharaway seemingly beat the offside trap setup by Barcelona and was through on goal from the wing. His first touch was standard for a guy being paid millions but the second touch was awful to say the least. He wasted probably the only chance Milan was going to get throughout the two legs of this Champions League fixture or it seemed so.
El Sharaway along with Prince did double duty tonight on the wings. In the first half of the game they were all over the pitch and you just have to admire that determination from Milan forwards.
Incidentally in the first half, Barcelona also were forced to play on the wings as Milan had a jam packed midfield and that actually worked in favor of Barcelona (as far as the first half went) as they tried something new instead of the usual tikki takka football for which they are notoriously known for.
Xavi and Iniesta worked equally hard in the midfield. Both showed great ball control and passing sense. Xavi took a nice shot from outside the penalty box but it was straight towards the goalkeeper.
Alves and Alba saw plenty of the ball as Milan were defending extremely deep and extremely well. Tackles were flying from the Milan side all over the pitch. I think Messi must have been pretty happy to get off the pitch at half time as he was being manhandled even when he did not have possession of the ball.
Valdes almost felt to sleep in the first half as Milan hardly had a look at the goal let alone a good chance apart from that El Sharaway semi chance.
The match slowly got boring, I think a shit might have cheered up the match a bit because Milan were just defending super deep with Barcelona passing the ball amongst their defenders like I do with mine on FIFA 13.
In the start of the 2nd half Milan looked determined but I had the feeling their game plan had not changed, which was basically to just get a 0-0 from this match and think about the away game as the game where they might shock Barcelona.
From Milan perspective I Think Ballotelli could have made a difference in this match, too bad he already had played for Manchester City in the Champions League and hence was ineligible to play in the Champions League for Milan.
At the 57nth minute mark the whole game suddenly changed. Barcelona fans looked terrified while Milan sensed that they could finally get a result against the best club side on the planet. Prince scored a fantastic goal just inside the penalty area from a half volley after it seemed to have been handballed by another Milan player.
The opportunity was created from a free kick which Milan players decided to lay off to another player rather than take a direct shot at the goal. The ball somehow got to prince inside the penalty area with all of Barcelona defense behind him watching in despair.
Suddenly after the 1st goal it looked like the tables had turned. Now Milan was the predator and Barcelona the prey. Milan players were hunting down the ball in numbers and for the first time in a long time, all Barcelona players had something to think about before controlling the ball and that led to some mistakes from them, very uncharacteristic of Barcelona.
Barcelona is the best side in the world and quite frankly they do not know a thing about how to defend in a football game, their game is attacking play. So even after being a goal down they kept on attacking. Milan invigorated by their goal also started to attack. Barcelona defense had been leaving too many gaps at the back throughout the game but the composure of Pique and the pace of Alves and Alba had kept them safe until the first goal.
Now everybody was starting to tire out and Barcelona full backs were not able to come back to their defensive position once they had gone at the front towards the Milan goal.
At the 87th minute mark the unthinkable happened. Mourinho was the last guy I remember who beat Barcelona by more than a single goal. Milan again were on the counter attack and after some slick one touch passing, got Barcelona off guard. The key to that move was the Milan tried to keep the ball above the ground and played over the shoulders of Barcelona defenders
In the build up to the 2nd goal of the night Alves was late to come back to his position and drifted too much into the center of the defense leaving Muntari on the right hand side free inside the penalty area who slotted a nice volley into the back of the net. Muntari had been trying for that shot since the 5fth minute of the game and it finally came off though from much closer to the goal.
And that was that. Milan is the best team in the world when it comes to defending leads and Barcelona is probably the worst team in the world when it comes to playing while losing 2-0, as they have not had to do that on a regular basis like forever.
The final whistle blew and Milan fans along with the players just could not believe at that they had managed to pull off. Milan won against Barcelona inside 90 minutes, which in itself is no small feat.
Now all Milan have to do is to rinse and repeat when they go to Camp Nou in 3 week’s time. They have to defend in numbers and just wait for the counter attack. Put long air balls into the mix as well just to keep Barcelona’s Puyol and Pique guessing.
Now with all of that happened. It time to think about Real Madrid and how they have to play against Manchester United next week in order to progress to the next round. 1-1 is not a score line I would be too optimistic about especially given the electric pace at which Manchester United play at Old Trafford. Couple that with annoying fans, biased referee and theatrics of Ferguson on the sidelines and we are looking at a pretty ugly theatre of dreams in 14 days.