Mar 12, 2013, 5:39 PM EST
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.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:33 PM EST
“I am concerned, not because of Chelsea but because we didn’t score in our last two home games,” Pellegrini said.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
The 33-year-old Cameroonian striker joins a Sampdoria side currently tied for third in the table with 34 points.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:13 PM EST
“If he’s not ready for Tuesday then he’ll be back, for sure, against West Ham next weekend,” Rodgers said.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:22 PM EST
Maloney turned 32 on Saturday and will be unveiled by Chicago on Monday.
Jan 25, 2015, 8:31 PM EST
Sepp Blatter: Kind of like “The Godfather”. But let’s be clear, we’re talking “The Godfather: Part III”.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:40 PM EST
What else is cooking? Glad you asked.
Jan 25, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
There’s a new top-four team in Spain, while little has changed in Italy, both for good and bad.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:28 PM EST
Two of eight quarterfinals places were clinched on Sunday as the late drama continues at AFCON 2015.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EST
A work permit still must be obtained, but Arsenal is on the cusp of securing some defensive depth.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:07 PM EST
With 10 goals in his last six games, all of that is coming to a screeching halt.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:54 PM EST
After yesterday’s FA Cup craziness, things were restored to normal today as all three Premier League sides went through, despite some nervy moments.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Anderlecht fans responded to their former player – now with their arch rivals – in a very mean way. Defour reacted accordingly.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:46 AM EST
Four goals in his last four games has Paul Pogba on top of the world.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:16 AM EST
Aston Villa secured the services of midfielder Fabian Delph, and while that should have been an exciting announcement, the club blew it up a little too much and it fell flat on its face.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:23 AM EST
Mohamed Salah just needed signatures to make him a Roma player, but now the Italian club could be headed in a different direction.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:52 AM EST
Which is Balotelli and which is the practice dummy? It sounds like it’s harder for Brendan Rodgers to tell every day.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
The bitterness is flowing freely from Falcao’s agent as he plots the Colombian striker’s next move to a “world’s best-seven team.”
Jan 24, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
If MLS is good enough for Italian national teamers, why isn’t it good enough for U.S. national teamers?
Jan 24, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
Barcelona were stunning as they put a half-dozen past Elche, while Real stumbled to victory. Elsewhere, AC Milan are very bad.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
The Baby Yanks are headed back to the Big Dance this summer.
- Rodgers: Sturridge could face Chelsea in League Cup, certain to be back for Saturday vs. West Ham 0
- Sepp Blatter keeps talking trash at UEFA regarding FIFA election 3
- Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup: Konoplyanka to Everton, Clyne to Trafford 0
- Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Congo, Equatorial Guinea victorious in group finales, advance 0
- FA Cup Roundup: Upsets halted with West Ham, Villa, Arsenal wins 1
- Rodgers says Balotelli needs to vastly improve before playing for Liverpool 1