Barcelona 4 AC Milan 0: Four lessons as Lionel Messi inspires comeback
Barcelona 4 AC Milan 0: What lessons did we learn as Lionel Messi inspired the Catalan side to an emphatic victory at Camp Nou?
Messi makes it 52 not out
AC Milan’s ability to prevent Lionel Messi from wreaking havoc was always going to be a key factor in their bid to reach the Champions League last 16. But the Serie A side lasted less than five minutes before the Argentine maestro unlocked their defence and scored his second-fastest strike in the Champions League (he netted in the fourth minute in Basel in 2008). Sergio Busquets and Xavi combined to find Messi in space, the forward played a quick one-two with the Barça captain, before steering a finish into the top corner. It was a sublime strike. Milan were still ahead on aggregate but Barça have gone on to score a second in 27 of the 29 matches where they’ve scored first in the opening 10 minutes. It took the Catalans another 34 minutes before doubling their advantage and levelling the tie. Massimo Ambrosini won the ball on the edge of the Milan area but decided to take it into midfield and was dispossessed by Andres Iniesta. Messi was alert to an opportunity and fired a devastatingly accurate shot past Christian Abbiati – his 52nd goal of the season and fifth against Milan.
Careless Milan defence architects of their own downfall
With Barcelona already scoring a staggering 61 goals at Camp Nou in all competitions this season, Milan needed to be at their imperious best to keep out the home side out. But Massimiliano Allegri’s side were edgy and nerves inevitably produce mistakes. In particular, Milan right-back Ignazio Abate struggled to track Pedro’s darting runs and was fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty after clumsily felling the Spain international. The 26-year-old was creating uncertainty in the Milan defence, and when Victor Valdes pumped a long ball into the Milan half, the Italy international failed to take control of the situation as he almost collided with Cristian Zapata. Abate’s resulting back-pass was almost intercepted by Pedro as Milan were left rocking after a tentative start. Abate capped a dodgy first half with an almost calamitous dribbling run out of his own box which allowed Pedro to pinch the ball before taking a hopeful tumble in the area after Ambrosini’s thumping challenge. After half-time, it was Milan’s left-back Kevin Constant who proved anything but reliable as he was caught dawdling on the ball by Messi but Abbiati denied the Barca forward. The Guinea international was central to the home side’s third as he lunged to intercept Xavi’s threaded pass to David Villa but missed the ball and the striker made no mistake with his finish. Milan’s night was compounded when Robinho’s reckless, short free-kick in added time was picked off by Alexis Sanchez, who teed up Jordi Alba to seal a 4-0 win.
Kevin Prince-Boateng and Stephan El Shaarawy were in devastating form at the San Siro as Milan secured a 2-0 lead in the first leg. Unsurprisingly, the visitors’ star man at Camp Nou was Abbiati as the veteran goalkeeper produced a string of saves to deny Barcelona notching up a rugby score. Messi’s early goal put Milan on the back foot and Iniesta came close to doubling the home side’s lead in the 14th minute. His Argentine team-mate produced a deft header to tee up the Spanish midfielder, who instinctively drove a shot towards the top corner. Abbiati sprang to his right and touched the shot onto the post before jumping to his feet to force the rebound wide. Before half-time, it was the turn of Iniesta’s central-midfielder partner Xavi to test the Italy international as he cut past two Milan challenges and fizzed a low shot toward Abbiati’s bottom corner. The goalkeeper was alert to the danger and finger-tipped the shot wide. There was little respite for the Milan shot-stopper as he was called into action to deny Messi a hat-trick in the 48th minute. It’s testament to the quality of Barcelona’s strikes that Abbiati fault cannot be attributed to the goalkeeper for Milan record-equalling heaviest defeat in Europe.
Missed Milan chances
Despite Barcelona’s 4-0 victory looking rather emphatic on paper, it was a much closer second leg, with the visitors needing to score just once to book their place in the last eight. Milan adopted a negative style of play in the first half, playing the ball long to M’Baye Niang. The striker received few touches in a pedestrian opening 38 minutes until being presented with a gift by Javier Mascherano. The Argentine headed a long-ball straight into Niang’s path but the striker, unlike Chelsea’s Fernando Torres at Camp Nou last season, failed to produce a clinical finish and bag that all important away goal. Milan discarded their defensive approach after half-time in favour of throwing bodies forward in a much more adventurous second-half display but Barcelona held firm. Former Real Madrid forward Robinho was introduced as Allegri threw caution to the wind and the Brazilian drew an instinctive block from Alba with the striker ready to stroke a finish past Valdes in the 82nd minute.