Fans at the Camp Nou saw the pinnacle of professional soccer when Barcelona routed AC Milan 4-0 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Barça has the most talented squad in the world, but the team had been in a rut since losing 2-0 to Milan in the first leg of this matchup. In Tuesday’s match, the Catalan giants were focused, determined and most importantly, they were angry.
The best team on the planet executed its signature brand of football, but did so with an edge. The Barcelona players were frenetic and ruthless without the ball, while switching immediately into the serene and beautiful tiki taka style once it gained possession.
But now, Barça still has plenty of work to do in Europe. Here are the biggest takeaways from the match.
Barcelona is Still the Favorite to Win the Champions League
After losing to Milan then falling twice to Real Madrid, doubt crept in about Barcelona’s ability to survive the first round of the knockout stage. This was an enormously impressive performance, and it took an incredible amount of resiliency to pull it off.
After a string of poor matches, Barcelona had to endure the frustration of a quality defensive side packing the back and desperately protecting a two-goal lead. Winning a match like this required patience and discipline.
It also took a massive amount of effort to win balls in the midfield and keep Milan pinned in its own box. Fans knew about Barcelona’s skill and passing, but the team showed how dangerous it can truly be when it plays with urgency and tenacity.
If Barça plays like that against any team in the tournament, it will win, and this was a powerful reminder that it is still the best squad in Europe.
Andre Iniesta and Xavi Are Crucial to Barcelona’s European Campaign
Lionel Messi’s performance will be discussed shortly, but it is important to not how vital of a role Xavi and Andres Iniesta played in this match.
According to Whoscored.com, the three Milan central midfielders had 131 combined touches in the match. Xavi had 136 touches by himself, while Iniesta contributed 116 more.
These two— along with Sergio Busquets, who had 125 touches—controlled the match. Xavi had two assists and Iniesta had one, but it was their defensive contribution that was key to this dominant victory.
Every time Milan was able to control the ball and had a moment breathe, one of these two was there to take back possession. It was a gutsy performance from both players, and if they continue to play at this level in future European matches, there will certainly be more fireworks from Barça.
Lionel Messi is Still the Best Player in the World
Sports fans love a juicy argument, but there is still no debate over who is the greatest soccer player on the planet.
A stretch of poor form from Messi and Barcelona, coupled with an impressive run from Cristiano Ronaldo and Madrid, left the door open for this dispute to gain momentum.
On Tuesday, Messi slammed that door shut. He faced an enormous amount of pressure and responded by erasing Milan’s lead in the first half with two incredible finishes.
There are many signs of greatness, and the way Messi responded to the adversity his team faced due to its recent struggles is certainly one of them. He is, without question, the best.