Rapid Reactions to Barcelona vs. AC Milan
Barcelona screams, loud and clear: "We are still here, football world! Fear us!"
Barcelona beat AC Milan 4-0 at home in a match in which they were nothing short of dominant.
Messi was his usual self, Iniesta dominated the midfield and AC Milan had only a couple of chances to make this game even interesting (they will be having nightmares with a least one of them, though).
Look out, world. Messi and Barcelona are still very much alive and hungry for their third Champions league trophy in five years.
This starting slide will be incredibly short, because we simply wanted to point out a tiny aspect of the game.
Referees seem to be only remembered when they make mistakes. Today, Mr. Viktor Kassai was nearly perfect. The only arguable call was Boateng’s yellow card.
Aside from that, perfect match.
How we wish there were more referees like this one. Well, back to the actual game.
AC Milan Approached the Game the Wrong Way
In hindsight, it’s easy to say that. But, honestly, one could see it from a mile away: AC Milan needed a goal. Instead, they tried to deny Barcelona the opportunity to score more than two goals.
Understatement of the week: That strategy didn’t work out so well.
AC Milan came out with a 4-3-3 formation, disguised as a 4-5-1. On paper, they played with Boateng, El Shaarawy and Niang on top. But, in reality, Niang was the only forward.
Boateng and (especially) El Shaarawy were essentially part of the defensive midfield. Thus, they created a line of five in front of the defensive four. What they hoped for was to find an opening to use their speed in a counterattack.
The plan sounded swell and all that, but it had a fault: Barcelona’s tiki-taka. The team from Catalonia has seen more than its share of defensive-minded teams and has both the patience and the assets to penetrate the two defensive lines. Watch the three first goals again and notice how in all of them, they find a perfect way to net the ball.
Instead, AC Milan should have composed themselves in such a way that they protected their back four while they kept the ball away from Barcelona’s feet. It was Johan Cruyff that said it best: “without the ball, you can’t win.”
Needless to say, Barcelona had plenty of the ball.
Messi Is a Magician
Understatement of the week, Part 2.
It is shocking that people are still shocked at Messi’s brilliance. This comes only days after his teammate Dani Alves (who, by the way, couldn’t complete a cross if his life depended on it today) said in an interview that the Argentinian was “emotionally down.”
The first goal was pure brilliance. He only takes two touches to net the ball!
The best part, though, is Abbiati’s reaction. He can’t even move! Was he in awe of the shot or was it just that far away from him? We want to believe that it’s both.
The second goal deserves props, too. Firstly because the play was a typical Barcelona play (more on that in the next slide). Secondly because Messi’s strike was so precise it could have been done on a surgery table.
Are you ready for the third understatement in two slides? Messi is the best player of this generation.
Barcelona’s Pressure Won the Game
To be fair with AC Milan, they did try going forward, at least after the midway point. The difference was obvious: the first time the Italian team had possession in the offensive half during the first period of play was at the 25-minute mark. In the second half, they only took seven minutes to create an offensive play.
However, it is still undeniable that their offensive volume was pretty low. Interestingly enough, the credit doesn’t go to Barcelona’s defense, in this case. Rather, it goes to their offense.
It’s no secret anymore that Barcelona likes to put pressure on the opponent teams’ backs to win the ball in the offensive side. Well, today, they ran that to perfection.
Let’s take a look at the second goal again. Iniesta steals the ball from Ambrosini (who, by the way, stands there and does nothing to recover the ball) and then quickly finds Messi for the finish.
Without the high pressure in the offensive side of the ball, Iniesta never steals that ball, Ambrosini starts a counterattack and AC Milan could change the game.
It’s also important to say that Barcelona only stopped pressuring the AC Milan backs at the 83-minute mark, when Adriano came in for Pedro. Even with the 3-0 lead, they still kept pushing, pushing and pushing. Great call.
The old cliche goes: The best defense is a good offense. Barcelona lived by that rule today.
M’Baye Niang Can’t Miss That
It was really a game of cliches at Camp Nou. Here’s another one: If you don’t score, you will get scored on.
The play of the game was not a Barcelona goal. In fact, it wasn’t even anything that anyone did correctly. It was a miss.
M’Baye Niang will have a couple of sleepless nights after this miss.
The 18-year-old actually did a lot of things right on this play. He predicted the defense’s mess-up. Controlled the ball correctly. Had the right speed and waited the perfect amount of time. He even got it away from Victor Valdes perfectly.
But he had to hit the post.
It’s really easy, in hindsight, to say he should have chipped it over Valdes. You can clearly see, in the replay, that he could have taken the shot earlier and tried to hit the right side of the goal.
But he didn’t, and soccer is a cruel, cruel game. Instead, he hit the post, and what do you know? Three minutes later, Barcelona scored their second goal.
Want another understatement? That goal would have changed the outcome of the match.
Niang will really have a hard time sleeping tonight.
AC Milan Was Nervous
Whether it was the Camp Nou or anything else, AC Milan looked awfully nervous today.
They made defensive mistakes left and right, fouled Barcelona players like there was no tomorrow (it would turn out there wasn’t one) and made boneheaded plays the entire game.
AC Milan panicked at the mere sight of Messi, for instance. They received three yellow cards in the match—all fouls on Messi.
Flamini’s card, at the 46-minute mark, was especially dumb. Fair enough: Messi was conducting the ball into a counterattack, but the half was about to be over. Why do you need to foul, then? Answer: You don’t need to.
If AC Milan had beaten their rival, they would have had to play the next game without Flamini.
But, the clearest sign of AC Milan’s nervousness was Abbiati’s reaction to Messi’s goal. As soon as the ball hit the net, his only reaction was to furiously kick it. Why? Wouldn’t it have been a lot better to stay composed, look at your players and say, “Come on guys, we got this”? Wouldn’t a simple “Let’s go” have sufficed?
Instead, he showed his emotions, put his own players down and breathed life into Barcelona. We all know how that panned out.
Praise to Constant, but He Did Mess Up Once
We have given Barcelona a lot of (deserved) praise so far, but one player in particular stood out in AC Milan’s side: Kevin Constant.
The left-back did a tremendous job denying Dani Alves and David Villa much room to operate. The first couldn’t complete a play the entire game, while David Villa was only successful when Constant let his guard down.
In fact, Barcelona had nothing going for them on Constant's side. Every dangerous play came from the opposite end of the field.
That brings up two different points. Firstly, praise to David Villa, who can stay relevant in a game even if he is not getting enough touches. Thanks to Constant, he only got two shots on target today, and netted the one good opportunity he found.
Secondly, Barcelona did the exact opposite of AC Milan: They took the opportunities they were given.
Constant still played a very good game, but to let the ball pass by him before the third goal was nothing short of catastrophic. Again, great job by Villa to take the one good opportunity he had.
Baseball might be the game of inches, but football is the game of chances.
"We Are Still Here"
Only a week ago, this same writer published an article entitled “Why the Barcelona Era is Over.”
Today, that era seems to be breathing just fine.
Barcelona showed today that their tiki-taka style is still the most dominant in the world, and that their world class players—Messi, Iniesta and Villa—can still shift games their way.
There are still issues to be confronted, such as their defensive letdowns and Xavi’s no-shows. Also, they still will face Juventus, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the Champions League, three teams that are arguably playing better soccer right now.
However, it is safe to say that burying Barcelona was, at least, premature.