Milan Melt in Wake of Barca Brilliance

November 24, 2011 - by mosesbet · Filed Under Sports News Comments Off on Milan Melt in Wake of Barca Brilliance 

Two European giants locked horns at the San Siro in a feisty, enthralling encounter.

So many of these all-star match ups descend into cagey wars of attrition, but with Barcelona and AC Milan both guaranteed progression to the Champions League knockout stages, the shackles were off.

Several intriguing backstories added spice to the affair. Mark Van Bommel faced the one club where he’s failed to impose his ruthless midfield stewardship (he lasted only one season at the Nou Camp). Meanwhile mercurial forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic bears so much disdain for his former employers that he accuses manager Pep Guardiola of favouritism and having “no balls” in his recent autobiography. Bad blood between the two sides may stretch as far back as 1994, where Guardiola was part of the Barcelona team that were humbled 4-0 by Milan in the Champions League final.

The game ebbed and flowed – for all of Barcelona’s attacking enterprise and vibrancy, their defensive frailties meant that Milan were never quite out of contention.

The arrival of Fabregas and the emergence of 20 year old Thiago Silva has given coach Guardiola an enviable midfield conundrum. Tonight, Fabregas replaced the injured Iniesta, whereas Thiago lined up alongside Villa and Messi in Barca’s customary forward triumvirate. Thiago is in a similar mould to his midfield seniors, but he has an extra fleet of foot and impishness to his game that enables him to occupy a wide berth.

From an offensive perspective, Barcelona were at their beguiling best, slicing through an ageing Milan team with their slick movement and incisive passing. Midfield orchestrator Xavi showed his finishing prowess by notching two goals, the second a delicate touch and sweep into the corner from a pinpoint Messi through ball.

A re-shuffle that saw Mascherano and Keita come in for Pique and Daniel Alves along with Guardiola’s bold decision to maintain a high defensive line meant that Milan looked menacing on the counter attack. Even Ibrahimovic transcended his usually languid self by offering a threat in behind, and produced an astute finish for Milan’s first equalizer. Milan’s second goal was of even greater quality – Kevin Boateng produced a moment of audacious improvisation as he controlled a defensive header and flicked the ball with the inside of his heel past Abidal, before drilling past Valdes.

Barcelona continued to show that attack was the best form of defence, and if it wasn’t for Christian Abbiat’s man of the match performance and Messi’s uncharacteristic spurning of chances, the gap would have been considerably wider.

A few unsavoury tackles and refereeing gaffes aside – Wolfgang Stark should have dismissed Aquilani for fouling Xavi and conceding a penalty but instead booked Alessandro Nesta – the game was a great showcase of continental football.

Milan showed enough character to suggest that they can defy their veteran composition and progress far in the Champions League. Barcelona showed that it will take an outstanding team, perhaps only their arch rivals Madrid or a resurgent Bayern Munich, to outscore them over two legs.

Ibrahimovic berated Guardiola for not letting him drive a Ferrari during his time at the Catalan Club. He forgot that that Barcelona keep their swagger on the pitch.