Champions League review: FC Barcelona 3 – 1 AC Milan: round two! *ding ding*By: Natasha | April 4th, 2012
Round two of the quarter-finals and plenty of drama in this leg too. This wasn’t Barça’s best performance of the season by any means, but they got the job done and yet more haters crawled out of the woodwork. Hi, guys.
Barça’s starting XI was: VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol – Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta – Messi, Cesc and Cuenca. I’m sure there were a few eyebrows raised, but this was a welcome relief compared to the lineup for the first leg against Milan. Iniesta was back in midfield, where he belongs. Puyol was at left back again and I was a little surprised not to see Adriano, but maybe Pep didn’t want to risk him as he’s just back from injury, who knows. Cuenca on the left wing? He wouldn’t have been my first choice; Alexis would have been. Actually, Alexis on the left side in general would have been welcomed, unlike the previous leg. I originally thought Cuenca would be out-muscled by the tough Milan defence, whereas Alexis probably wouldn’t have been.
The first half hour of this match was good. Piqué pulled an excellent full body block on Ibra within the 5th minute – proof that he’s back and looks like he wants to prove a point, too. Messi had a couple of chances within the first 10 minutes alone, but Abbiati made an easy save for the first, and his second chance was just a few inches wide from hitting the net. He was unlucky until, well, the 10th minute. Antonini tackled Messi in the box, Messi went down, a penalty was awarded…yes, really. A penalty! For Barça! What a novelty…until the next one that is, cough, cough. Anyway, Messi stepped up and took it perfectly. Abbiati went the right way and wasn’t too far from saving it, but he didn’t quite reach it.
Something I noted at various points during the first half was that Alves was even less present in defence than usual. I spotted Mascherano over on the right side quite a few times, presumably covering for Alves. At one point, Seedorf was over to the left of Mascherano, and he should have been marked by Alves. Alves did notice and ran back, but this was only after he noticed Seedorf. That’s my constant criticism with him – his defence is reactive and very rarely proactive.
By the half hour mark, Milan looked like they were in trouble and they were finding it difficult to make any roads into Barça’s half. Or so I thought. Nocerino’s goal in the 33rd minute was a little surprising, given their struggle to get out of their own half, but also expected. They were going to score, and just as well they scored fairly early on, as Barça still had plenty of time to react. Nothing worse than a goal in the dying minutes of the second half, as I’m sure you all know very well. There were a few more shots at goal after Milan scored, but none seemed to have enough power behind them and Abbiati made easy work of saving them.
Now, the 40th minute free-for-all. If you had no idea what went on here, you’re not the only one. First of all, we saw Nesta pulling Busquets’ shirt within the penalty box. Busquets goes down. Nesta is shown a yellow card. And then the referee is hounded by players from both sides and another penalty is awarded to Barça. Again, Messi steps up, goes for Abbiati’s left side this time, Abbiati goes right…Messi scores. If you’re a Milan fan who’s looking for an argument and have made it this far through the review to see what a Barça fan’s opinion on the whole thing was…yes, it was a fair penalty. I don’t doubt that Busquets probably did go down too easily, but shirt pulling is a foul and it’s very risky to do so within the penalty box. Don’t get angry because your player was punished in line with the rules of the game. Shirt pulling happens all the time and it’s not punished, you say…well, there are times when it is punished, and this was one of them. If you don’t think it’s fair, then there are two ways to resolve it – either referees should be more consistent with reprimanding shirt pulling, or players should stop doing it. Neither will happen. There’s no UEFA conspiracy and the referees have not been paid to favour Barça…what’s been achieved is a result of the team’s hard work.
The first half ended with a free kick from Ibra, which was miraculously blocked by our wall of midgets. The midgets did good! So, three goals during the first half, two of them coming from penalties and some good old referee crowding for good measure. The second half is sure to be exciting!
Not quite. I was left underwhelmed by the second half. Or more specifically, the second half of the erm, second half. The first 10-15 minutes were good. We saw a goal from Iniesta in the 53rd minute. Messi originally went for goal, but his shot deflected off a Milan player and Iniesta neatly cleaned up on the rebound. Looks like he’s got his goal scoring boots back on. After Iniesta’s goal, I don’t think there was much else going on. Thiago, similar to Messi in the first half, sent a shot wide, and Valdes was woken up by a shot from Robinho in the 61st minute. Milan looked deflated and were chasing the ball non-stop – Barça were controlling possession as ever, but the effect was quite obvious. Constantly chasing the ball is tiring.
One player I was quite impressed with, but who went largely unnoticed, was Cuenca. He kept to his position well and created width over on the left wing. He made a few good crosses that didn’t meet anyone in the box and they were sadly wasted. But his presence over on the left wing made a difference. I suggested in the previous match review that the main error from Barça’s was that play was far too centralised, and trying to force their way through the centre of Milan’s defence just didn’t work. The only explanation for the change is because Pep reads this blog and takes all our advice on board. Hi, Pep!
The disappointment of the night wasn’t anyone in particular, but the finishing. It’s been brought up plenty of times before, but lately the finishing seems to be a bit off. Barça have had chance after chance that they just can’t seem to finish. Credit must go to Abbiati, though. During the group stages of the CL and now the quarter final, he’s impressed me. I don’t know a whole lot about this Milan team (my knowledge of the early 90’s Milan is much better, mainly thanks to my Dad), but Abbiati has stood out to me. An excellent goalkeeper.
VV – 7. Just like he was in the first leg, he was pretty quiet in this match. That’s a good thing. I don’t think there was much he could have done to save Milan’s goal but he made a handful of excellent and crucial saves throughout the match.
Dani Alves – 6.5. Pretty good, apart from Masche often covering his position in defence. Are we used to that happening though? Probably.
Piqué – 8. Back at his best. That’s all I really have to say. The injury he picked up was unfortunate, but I’m hoping his surge in form won’t be harmed by it.
Mascherano – 7.5. Brilliant. He did play Nocerino onside but I’d say Puyol was also at fault here. He made up for that by making some excellent tackles in the second half.
Puyol – 6.5. I’d have preferred to see Adriano as he’s fit, but Puyol still did a good job. With Cuenca on the left wing, Puyol was able to stay back to try and keep the defence solid. I’m pointing to him for allowing Masche to play Nocerino onside.
Busquets – 6.5. Poor guy was being kicked all night. There’s no truth to the rumour that the club are going to introduce Busi shaped punch bags. But when he wasn’t being kicked…he was good.
Xavi – 6.5. I don’t know if it’s a result from his injury and I have a feeling he probably hadn’t recovered from it 100%, but he seemed like he was holding back a little. I thought he was going down the centre too often and he didn’t need to with Cuenca playing on the left wing.
Iniesta – 7. Pretty quiet in the first half but capitalised on that rebound in the second half and put the game to bed. Also, way way better in midfield than on the wing. Please don’t put him on the wing again!
Cesc – 6. Some people have said he was great, others have said he was anonymous. I’m going to side with the second opinion. I hardly noticed him and I don’t think he contributed a whole lot.
Messi – 8. Two penalties taken and two penalties scored…and he would have made that a hattrick if his shot in the second half wasn’t deflected (even though it fell to Iniesta anyway).
Cuenca – 7.5. Although he didn’t contribute in terms of assists or goals (hard to when two of those goals were penalties), he played with confidence. The left wing seems to have been ignored recently and having him over there helped. Good to see less concentrated play down the middle too.
I’ve not chosen a man of the match as I think it’s between Piqué and Messi, for different reasons. But enough of my (probably rubbish) player ratings – who was your man of the match?
And there we have it, people. Barça have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the fifth year in a row. Their opponent for the semis will either be Benfica or Chelsea, pending the outcome of tonight’s match…until then, we can breathe for a couple of weeks. And not get dragged into any conspiracy theories. We won because we were the better team over the two legs and we can be proud of our team.