I wrote in my last article that Messi isn't Messi against Italian teams, and Wednesday was yet another example that failed to dispel this theory, as Milan won 2-0 at home against the mighty Barcelona.
In a match that could go down as one of the biggest upsets of the season, Milan contained Barcelona with exceptional man-marking on Lionel Messi and a physicality that the Blaugrana rarely see in La Liga. In fact, La Pulga Messi recorded only one touch in the oppositions' penalty box all match, a number that surely is not synonymous with a player regarded by most as the finest in the world.
Sure, the Cristian Zapata hand-ball incident could've negated the first goal, but how many times have we seen referee errors like this in the Champions League? On this day, the better team won.
Anyway, before we get into an argument of bad calls through the years, let's move on to the player ratings!
GK—Cristian Abbiati (6.0): Between the pipes, Abbiati was rarely tested during the entire match, as only one Barcelona shot was on target. He came out comfortably on set pieces, helping his team win a clean sheet against the most potent offense in Europe.
DEF—Ignazio Abate (6.5): An accomplished display from the Milan right-back who made a few signature darting sprints up the flanks. He held his own against Andres Iniesta and put in a few crosses, unfortunately none were too accurate.
DEF —Cristian Zapata (7.0): Despite being one of the key clogs that helped keep the Barcelona attack at bay, the Colombian central defender was woeful in his passing, looking very nervous in possession and giving the ball away a few times in a dangerous area.
DEF —Philippe Mexes (7.5): The much maligned Mexes was fabulous on this day, giving the Barça players a taste of his highly aggressive style of defending and even venturing up the field on a few occasions. Fantastic in the air and an absolute rock at the back.
DEF —Kevin Constant (7.0): From fringe player at Genoa to Champions League starter for Milan in a position he learned how to play in six months ago. Despite letting Lionel Messi get the best of him a few times in the first half, he closed down Pedro to perfection and showed off his athleticism and pace on the defensive end.
MID—Riccardo Montolivo (8.0): Passive at times in the Serie A, Montolivo was the best midfielder on Wednesday against a team that has been praised for having the best set of players in this part of the field. The Milan playmaker set up the second goal by launching M'Baye Niang down the right wing and was the genesis of the first goal when he rifled a shot into the wall that ended up on foot of Kevin Prince Boateng.
MID—Massimo Ambrosini (7.5): The 35-year-old Milan captain evoked his inner Usain Bolt as he ran around the field like a starved hyena. The aggressiveness shown when plowing into Barcelona players made you realize why he's one of the last true Senatori at Milan. Even when he was down to fumes, he gave every last drop of effort.
MID—Sulley Muntari (7.0): Despite scoring a fantastic volley in the second half past the flailing arms of Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, Sulley was atrocious in the opening half. He misplaced passes and looked clumsy in possession—5.0 for the first half, 9.0 for the second.
Assuming they get by Barcelona, what chance does Milan have to win the Champions League?
ST —Kevin-Prince Boateng (7.0): The Ghanaian faux-trequartista gave Milan his best performance of the season after a lackluster domestic campaign. Incredibly, it seems that Kevin plays his best when facing top opposition in the Champions League. Now, if only he could replicate this form in the Serie A and we'd have the player Rossoneri fans fell in love with last season.
ST—Stephan El Shaarawy (7.5): Il Faraone showed the world why he is one of Italy's best-kept jewels. The Italian international burned Barcelona all game long with his pace and set up the second goal, lobbing a beautiful pass over the defense and onto Muntari's left foot.
ST—Giampaolo Pazzini (6.5): Pazzini went goalless and had to come out of the game a little while after suffering a bad head injury as he clashed in the air with Carles Puyol. The Milan striker held up possession pretty well and won key aerial battles on set pieces.
SUB —M'Baye Niang (7.0): Are you starting to see why Milan fans can barely hold their smile in when they mention the 18-year-old French striker? His entrance in the 75th minute ignited the Rossoneri as he pranced along the right wing, giving Barcelona defenders fits with his pace and technique.