AC Milan vs. Barcelona: 5 Things We Learned in Champions League Quarterfinal
Messi and Barcelona can be stopped. For 90 minutes, at least.
AC Milan held the reigning European champions and their free-scoring superstar to a scoreless draw Wednesday night at the San Siro. The same two teams will settle their Champions League quarterfinal tie next week at Barcelona's Camp Nou.
Milan succeeded where few have this season, holding Messi scoreless for the first time in nine games. The hosts played well defensively, holding Barca to just three shots on target while creating a few chances of their own.
An even bigger effort will be needed next week, though, if the Rossoneri want to knock out Barca.
Read on for five lessons from Wednesday's game.
Fit for a Final?
Wednesday's match was billed as a quarterfinal worthy of a final, and despite the lack of goals, it lived up to the hype—for one half.
In an engrossing first 45 minutes, both teams created chances and exerted their own unique influence on the game.
Barcelona, as usual, dominated possession, 65 percent to Milan's 35. Milan, on the other hand, frustrated Barcelona by playing a narrow, compact, organized defense.
Both teams featured outstanding play, and the action ebbed and flowed from end to end.
Everything was top-notch, except for the finishing, which was straight out of the pub leagues.
The second half wasn't nearly as interesting. Let's hope the second leg doesn't follow the same pattern.
Milan Frustrated Barca
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri got his tactics right, and that frustrated Barcelona.
The hosts pressed Barcelona early, breaking up possession with constant pressure and a high work rate.
It nearly paid off in the opening minutes, as the Rossoneri intercepted a pass and worked the ball to Robinho—who fluffed a glorious chance.
Later, Milan backed off, and Barcelona belatedly settled into their trademark possession game. Milan, however, stayed organized, narrow and compact, while Barca struggled to find openings.
But Barcelona Will Still Be Favored
Even so, Barcelona created chances and will be favored to advance via next week's second leg.
The visitors worked a nifty set piece in the 17th minute and nearly created a goal with it. Dani Alves ran up as if to power a shot from the free kick, but Xavi instead flicked the ball to Sergio Busquets, who found Sanchez unmarked in the box.
Sanchez rounded Christian Abbiati and crumpled under the challenge of the Barca keeper. It should have been a penalty, but the referee felt otherwise.
Barca created other chances, too, finishing with 18 shots—though only three hit the target.
Messi forced a save out of Abbiati in the closing minutes, and Cristian Tello's attempted rebound shot was blocked by the last-gasp efforts of Luca Antonini.
It was a frustrating night for Barcelona, but you can bet some of those chances will turn into goals next week at Camp Nou—where the Blaugrana are undefeated this year in La Liga.
Milan Had Chances Too
For all their defending, Milan had enough chances to score.
Robinho really should have done better with his chance in the third minute, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasted a clear opportunity in the 19th minute after a beautiful through ball by Clarence Seedorf.
(Speaking of Seedorf, the old man really rolled back the years Wednesday night, no?)
Goals or no goals, Milan attacked decently. But they'll really rue those missed chances next week.
Props to Milan's defense, which played without two regulars in Thiago Silva and Ignazio Abate. Both were injured, but Milan defended well without them anyway.
But Milan supporters must have winced at the sight of Djamel Mesbah, even if his second-half introduction was necessary after Alessandro Nesta received a knock.
Mesbah was awful against Arsenal in the Round of 16 second leg, and he nearly gifted Barcelona a winner in the closing minutes with another mistake.
Only the heads-up play of Antonini saved him—and Milan. Mesbah, though, just can't be trusted.