The whistle blew, the dust settled and Barcelona left the San Siro with heavy hearts.
After the 2-0 loss to AC Milan, the Catalans have a huge test on their hands to advance to the next round of the Champions League.
With the return leg being played at the Camp Nou in a few weeks, Barcelona has a lot to fix if they want to get to the next round.
It was very obvious that not only did Barcelona lose, but they were dominated. Milan implemented their defensive plan and executed it to perfection.
But not all hope is lost for Barcelona. History can always be made, and with 90 minutes to mount a comeback in Catalonia, do not count Barcelona out yet.
In this article we will take a look at the five keys to Barcelona overturning the odds against AC Milan.
Andres Iniesta has been in scintillating form since moving to the left-wing for Barcelona. But against Milan’s tight defense, Iniesta was forced into the middle of the pitch. A pure winger must be used in the return leg.
Barcelona’s best chances rely in either David Villa or Cristian Tello. The two wingers are purer scores than Iniesta and will take more chances, as well as create their own shots.
But a pure scorer alone will not guarantee Barcelona brilliance.
With Milan stacking the defense and giving little space, someone must be willing to take chances on the wings.Tello may be the best option for the Catalans, as his speed will give the defense a constant problem.
Simply put, the Iniesta experiment has worked, but it is not what is going to help Barcelona advance. If a pure winger does not start on the left wing, it will likely spell the end to Champions League play for the Catalans.
The most important aspect of Milan’s defense was putting the entire Barcelona attack in the center of the pitch. Width must be added to effectively find the holes in the Italian back line.
Milan’s brilliant defensive display came down to pinning all of Barcelona’s players in one area. This made for very few holes to attack through and not much space to exploit.
In the return leg, Barcelona will need to use the wingers and fullbacks to create space if they are to mount a comeback.
To be honest, the best Barcelona chances—if we can call them chances—came when Jordi Alba overlapped and got behind the defense. This will be the key to advancing in Spain.
With Alba and Dani Alves attacking the sides, Milan will be forced to stretch, and that pressure will leave gaps for Barcelona. But it will be the wingers who will be responsible for taking advantage of any holes that are created.
However, the most important aspect of creating space will be the opportunities that will come to Lionel Messi.
All too often at the San Siro, Barcelona was content to only keep possession and pass without trying to force chances. This will be the biggest key to mounting a historical comeback.
Barcelona will need a sense of urgency, but luckily for them, the chip on their shoulder should spur them to stronger attacks. While the tiki-taka style of play is brilliant, it is lacking a vital killer instinct that will be needed against Milan.
There are still questions on how a more direct attack will look for Barcelona.
More intentional attacking may lead to more overlap play and crosses into the box. If this is the case, it would still be better than what happened at the San Siro. But if Barcelona creates more space to use, a more urgent attack could be very deadly.
Yet there is one danger in this key to a comeback: A more urgent attack could lead to a more vulnerable defense, which leads us to our next point.
It is time for Dani Alves to face the music and admit that he is not a reliable defender. His defensive lapse gave AC Milan their second goal, and quite possibly the tie.
With Alves certain to push up in attack, there must be cover.
Barcelona should attempt to use Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol in a more traditional center-back way. The duo could possibly play further back to provide cover, instead of pushing up the center of the pitch.
But the Barcelona defense will need to play at a level they have not for the entire season. Dani Alves will need to be more focused than ever on his defensive game if Barcelona is to advance.
This key to the comeback may prove to be the most difficult. Alves cannot fix his defending overnight, but steps must be taken to ensure a more protected goal.
Quite simply, Barcelona will need to take chances if they want to see the next round of Champions League play. They cannot afford to pass the ball around without attempting a few risky plays.
La Blaugrana should look to play an attacker through at times when it appears very difficult, as well as take their opportunities when behind the defense.
But the biggest gamble that the Catalan club will have to take is that of taking long shots.
Andres Iniesta attempted one long shot against AC Milan, and it actually appeared to silence the crowd. The attempt was very unexpected, and Barcelona will need more of the same.
With David Villa or Cristian Tello in the lineup, long shots will be a bit easier to take, as both players have that capability. But ultimately this game will come down to how risky Barcelona is willing to play.
We have seen the five keys to Barcelona’s comeback. They are all necessary and build on each other to provide a good chance at advancing.
Though a comeback looks very difficult, it is not out of the realm of possibility if Barcelona makes the necessary changes.
What should Barcelona do to mount a successful comeback? Is the tie already decided? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.
Tre’ Atkinson. Follow me on twitter for more discussions on Barcelona, La Liga, and the Champions League.