Mar 12, 2013, 5:39 PM EDT
It’s so easy now, after witnessing what became a route in Catalonia, to wonder why we ever doubted Barcelona, but we had good reason to think Milan would hold the two-goal lead they carried into today’s Champions League eliminator. Nobody had ever squandered that kind of a league. But perhaps more importantly, recent losses to Milan and Real Madrid (twice) provided hints Barcelona’s attack had been figured out, with good teams able to sit back and absorb the Catalans’ attack rather than waste time chasing tikis and takas.
We had every reason to think Barcelona would bow out of Champions League, but their 4-0 win (4-2, aggregate) reminded us, Milan, and the European soccer world that there’s one aspect of Barcelona’s attack that defies solution. The only options you have against Lionel Messi are containment, hope, and prayer that he doesn’t decide to do something special.
Three weeks ago at the San Siro, those options worked, but it only took five minutes for Messi to make his mark on Tuesday, the first touch on a shot from 19 yards placed immaculately into Christian Abbati’s upper-right hand corner. The ball left Messi’s foot so quickly, Milan’s defense was left frozen as the ball buckled the back of the net.
Messi added his second five minutes before half, a score produced by a Barcelona defense that was much more disruptive on Tuesday than it had been three weeks ago. In the 40th minute, as Milan attempted to transition the ball out of their final third, Andrés Iniesta forced a turnover, found Messi outside the area to the right of goal, and set up the Argentine for the equalizer. Using the lunging Philippe Mexes as a screen, Messi beat Abbiati well inside the right post, sending the matchup into halftime tied at two.
Ten minutes into the second, Barcelona’s defense created the winner, with a bold read from Javier Mascherano again disrupting Milan’s transition. The Barça defender intercepted a clearance and started a short movement that ended at the feet of David Villa. Open 15 yards out to the right of goal, Villa calmly passed the ball into the left side netting, putting Barcelona in front.
Milan’s approach was never one to play from behind. Despite three subs that changed their side, the Rossoneri couldn’t gain control of the match. The closest they came to an equalizer was a late cross for Robinho, a ball that was cut out by Jordi Alba before Victor Valdes’s help was needed.
In the 93rd minute, Alba got his reward, sprinting the length of the field to complete a counter that sealed Barcelona’s place in the quarterfinals.
With the win, Barcelona became the first team to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and advance in the Champions League, a fact that should haunt a Milan side that couldn’t muster the resiliency they leveraged three weeks ago. The Italians never posed the same threat on the counter, and the space between their midfield three and central defense proved easier to exploit. Perhaps it was too much to ask them to maintain the same standard they performed to in Milan.
And perhaps it was too much to ask them to stop Messi twice in a row. In Italy, the Ballon d’Or winner was surprisingly ineffectual. In Spain, he defined the match in the same way we expect him to define any match he starts.
Villa may have got the winner, and Alba may have provided the insurance, but it was Messi who steered his side to history. Maybe we were wrong to doubt.
Jul 30, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT
Louis van Gaal seems to have misplaced his club’s $90 million investment, purchased just 12 months ago.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
With three attacking signings already made this summer, Balotelli and Borini look destined to leave Liverpool before the transfer deadline.
Jul 30, 2015, 6:24 PM EDT
Julian Green will be playing in the fourth division of German football to begin the 2015-16 season.
Jul 30, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
The terms and conditions of building a stadium next to Marlins Park couldn’t be any less favorable to the prospective MLS franchise.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT
CONCACAF’s refereeing department could be in line for something of an overhaul in the coming months and years.
Jul 30, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Back in the Premier League after a season away, can the Canaries stay up and solidify their place among England’s elite?
Jul 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Following Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to the MLS All-Stars, Mauricio Pochettino said he is unsure as to where Yedlin will be playing next season.
Jul 30, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Zlatan’s contract with Paris Saint-Germain expires next season, but he won’t let anyone know his plans for the future.
Jul 30, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Last season was a complete disaster for Newcastle. Can Steve McClaren turn things around for the Magpies?
Jul 30, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
Liverpool could lose two strikers, while Mario Gomez is on his way to Besiktas.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:06 AM EDT
The South Korean billionaire is looking to become the new president of FIFA, and he had some choice words for his rivals.
Jul 30, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Heading into Louis van Gaal’s second season at Old Trafford, trophies are on the minds of everyone in Manchester.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT
The defender had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, but it looks like he’ll be staying at Madrid.
Jul 29, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
Kaka and David Villa scored for the All Stars, which built on last year’s 2-1 win against Bayern Munich.
Jul 29, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT
Halftime substitutions including Andreas Pereira gave some life to United, but the Red Devils still couldn’t find the back of the net.
Jul 29, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
The 86th minute tally came moments after FCKC had drawn level at 2-2.
Jul 29, 2015, 8:39 PM EDT
Could this be on account of overseas interest, or is he just ready to go closer to home?
Jul 29, 2015, 7:14 PM EDT
The Azerbaijani champions nearly walked out of Celtic Park with a deadlock, but Boyata’s second goal in as many games did the trick.
Jul 29, 2015, 6:18 PM EDT
Rog and Davo pod from Chelsea vs. Barcelona at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. Chelsea captain John Terry guests.
Jul 29, 2015, 5:33 PM EDT
It might be old hat for Drogba, but it’s pretty nutty for us.
- Thursday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Lambert to West Brom, Balotelli back to Italy 3
- Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Manchester United 6
- MLS All Stars 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Kaka powers MLS to win 6
- Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea’s John Terry joins Rog and Davo 0
- Swiss star Barnetta moves to MLS; Orlando City signs a pair of Europeans 4
- Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Manchester City 1