AC Milan pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the 2013 Champions League when defeated Spanish giants Barcelona 2-0 at the San Siro this week.
Barca came into the match as heavy favorites to emerge with a victory in hand, given their attacking dominance and midfield brilliance, but despite their control and possession throughout the match, the Spanish club could not make it count on the scoresheet at all.
Milan, on the other hand, who finished the match with just 33 percent possession, capitalized on good goal-scoring opportunities when they were provided to them, with Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari giving the home side a deserved 2-0 victory.
And make no mistake, it was a deserved 2-0 win for the Rossoneri.
They defended gallantly and attacked superbly—taking advantage of the chances afforded to them, and creating more goal-scoring opportunities on the night. As a result, the Italian giants will now take a huge two-goal lead into the return fixture at Camp Nou in three week's time, with a huge chance to progress through to the Champions League quarterfinals in front of them.
It's a position they deserve to be in.
Yet to assume that Milan are genuine Champions League contenders after the surprise win over Barcelona is a stretch too far to take. One win does not change an entire standings process—regardless of how good they might have been on the night.
The Rossoneri still have a long way to go in terms of playing style and success before they can be considered key players in the Champions League—starting with the return fixture at the Nou Camp.
Playing there is even harder than playing at the San Siro, and with Barca promising to "go for it" from the first whistle, Milan still have an awful lot of work to do, especially given how successful the Spanish club can be when at their attacking best.
When at home, Barcelona have dropped points in just one domestic match this year: A 2-2 draw against current domestic champions Real Madrid.
That was back in November, 2012.
Since then, Barca have won their last seven home matches in dominant fashion. They have netted 30 goals in those seven games and allowed just six in return. No team has managed to score more than one goal at the Nou Camp this year, other than that lone match against Real Madrid.
And with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in their starting side, Barcelona certainly won't be short of attacking options throughout the return leg. They could also start someone like Alexis Sanchez alongside Messi as well, just to give that extra attacking dimension to this one—not that the home side will need it or anything.
They will attack and attack and attack, and unless Milan's bus has been parked perfectly at the back, Barca could very well end up right back in the tie.
Especially if Barcelona finally start shooting on goal.
See against Milan, the Spanish club passed themselves to death. All their possession and field position never ended up with a shot on goal. When it did, the Blaugrana looked dangerous, but it was something that was few and far between for the visitors.
Barca would finish with just three shots on target for the match—something that they will no doubt address in the coming weeks. As a result, expect them to be much more proactive and direct in their attack in the second leg, and for the shots on goal to flow out of that.
And from that, well, anything could happen. Two goals is certainly not out of the equation; in reality, neither is four or five for the Spanish league leaders.
Milan were never really tested in the true sense that Barcelona tests their opponents' defense, which is why they were able to record such a big victory. That's not meant to take anything away from the Rossoneri's dominance; it's simply an acknowledgement that although they played very well, the onus for the match was always on the actions of Barcelona.
Barca lost this one, rather than Milan winning it.
The video below highlights all the attacking chances that Barcelona had against Chelsea in their semifinals of the Champions League last year—the reference point for any team that seemingly wants to try and successfully park the bus against the Catalan club.
Compared to that, Barca barely attacked at all against Milan.
This was merely the tip of the iceberg, it seems.
So to declare that Milan are genuine challengers for the Champions League title is both premature and incorrect given all that's still unknown in this tie.
Milan are yet to be truly tested by the Spanish giants, and it seems that their first test will come away from home, at the Nou Camp with Barcelona prepared to throw every attacking weapon at the defense of the Rossoneri.
That will be their first real test and if they can triumph from that, then concessions will no doubt be made that Milan are genuine players in this year's tournament.
But until then, they cannot be declared as potential players.
Who will progress to the quarterfinals?
Bayern Munich are players, Real Madrid and Manchester United are also—depending on whoever progresses from their round of 16 clash. Some may even want to consider the likes of Juventus and Borussia Dortmund in that category as well.
Milan, however, are not yet contenders for the title.
They made huge inroads at the San Siro and earned the respect of many football fans on the night, but they didn't announce their title campaign just yet.
The Italian giants will have every right to do that if they are left celebrating after their match at the Nou Camp in three weeks, after they have no doubt taken a battering from every possible angle by the best attacking team currently on the planet.
But until then, Milan cannot be considered as such.
They have merely won the battle, whilst the war still rages on.
Would you consider AC Milan Champions League contenders after the win?
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