talkingbaws Editor Jonny Boyle gives us his insight in to Barcelona’s 3-1 victory against AC Milan tonight.
BARCELONA 3-1 AC MILAN – Match Analysis and Reaction
The definition of a genius is to possess ‘Exceptional Intellectual or creative power or other natural ability’ and although this word is used so regularly in football, it can be undeserved for those it is bestowed upon. It cannot be denied when describing the natural footballing talent of Lionel Messi however. In fact, not only is Messi a genius but Barcelona are a genius-like club, rich in tradition and silverware but still creating their own history with one of the greatest sides ever to grace our game.
So, without making AC Milan’s objective of beating Barcelona look like Luke Chadwick trying to romance Cheryl Cole, it is clear that Massimiliano Allegri’s side were certainly up against it.
On paper, Barcelona were obvious favourites. Possessing world class players at the peak of their powers, in fortress Nou Camp and at a stage where they have shown to be so efficient in achieving results, Milan approached the game with more hope than expectation.
However, games are not played on paper and instead – following an encouraging first leg display at the San Siro – Milan began the game with the intention of stifling Barcelona in the final third before breaking whenever they get the ball.
Setting up in a 4-5-1 defending formation but attacking as a 4-3-3, Allegri deployed plenty of power and pace in his Milan side – a key trait for a team who would base most of their play on counter attacking moves. Robinho, Nocerino, Seedorf and Boateng were all given the task of sitting in a tight line of 4 just in front of Massimo Ambrosini – with the Italian blessed with the task of shackling Lionel Messi.
There were two reasons for Allegri’s chosen shape: Firstly, he would have been conscious to the fact that his team had to score in order to advance to the semi-finals. Understanding that Barcelona would enjoy the majority of possession, Milan looked to soak up their opponent’s advances before breaking on loose balls. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was deployed as the lone ‘target man’ and although he lacks the required mobility, his presence makes him such a formidable barrier for any defenders.
Secondly, Lionel Messi! The best attacker in the game and a man whose ability to move between the lines of defence and attack make him such a difficult player to contain. He’s also not bad on the ball either. Ambrosini was used to sit in front of the defence, picking Messi up whenever he dropped deep but passing the Argentine on to his central defenders whenever he moved further towards the goal.
Their strategy was understandable for the situation but for all the research, careful planning and hours of practice which go into preparing for a match of this magnitude, they could not legislate for Barcelona keeping the ball so well.
Yes, they have been better. Some would argue that the two penalties were harsh on Milan, but when Iniesta scored on 53 minutes; his side took their foot off the gas and literally played with their opponents for the remainder of the match. Barcelona go up a gear when the situation suits and after their third goal they had no need to get out of that first gear.
So how did they do it?
Well, apart from Messi’s individual brilliance, it was very similar to previous Barca performances at home. Starting strongly, they dominated possession with Milan only threatening sporadically on the break. Unusually for Guardiola, he set up with 3 central defenders in a big match, opting for Cuenca and Alves on the flanks and Cesc Fabregas playing off of Lionel Messi. With the ball, they calmly set about dismantling Milan and for long spells Messi, Iniesta and Alves were chief tormentors. In defence, Pique, Puyol and Mascherano looked typically unconvincing and in their only real test, they failed to stop Zlatan turning and feeding Nocerino who equalised for the Italian side.
Away goals at the Nou Camp appear to be a huge help, but seem to act more as a hindrance as this early equaliser only forced Barcelona to turn the screw. Several chances and corners ensued before Messi was able to slot home a 41st minute penalty after Nesta pulled Busquets in the box. It must be said that Abbiati had no chance with either of Messi’s penalties tonight.
The second half brought about a change in shape for the home side – reverting back to their more traditional 4 in defence. This allowed Cuenca to operate higher up the park and was also the key factor contributing to the fourth goal. Andres Iniesta – after moving from left of the middle three to left of the front three – popped up inside the box on 53 minutes to slot by Abbiati and virtually kill any chance Milan had in the game.
From that point on there wasn’t much in the way of tactics as Milan tried – unsuccessfully – to press higher up the park and force mistakes. They forgot however, that every Barcelona player has exceptional quality on the ball and when pressed, they seize the opportunity to showcase their high-tempo, intricate and precise passing.
A non-event ensued and Milan were left to chase shadows. Difficult shadows to follow when the majority of them don’t seem to stop moving. It wouldn’t be surprising if Victor Valdes covered more ground than Massimo Ambrosini.
Following their 3-1 victory, Guardiola and his men can now cast an eye over to Stamford Bridge tomorrow night – with the winner between Benfica and Chelsea meeting Barcelona in the last four.
It was nonetheless a valiant effort from Milan in both legs of this quarter final, but Messi and co. are just too good and tonight they physically, technically and tactically outclassed their opponents on their way to a comfortable and convincing 3-1 win.
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