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.
Sep 1, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
What originally was thought to be a steal is turning out to be quite a hit to Manchester United’s wallet.
Sep 1, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
AC Milan made the terrible mistake of confirming a deal before it was complete, and now they’re forced to rescind their confirmation.
Sep 1, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Time running out for U.S. national team star to seal his move away from Stoke.
Sep 1, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Spurs could be back in for Rodriguez, as third bid made for England international.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
The biggest deals of the summer listed here.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
Reports are exploding that Welbeck’s location lends itself to a shock move to Arsenal, but we’re not so sure.
Sep 1, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
It’s the fourth loan spell for Chalobah, who will get his first taste of Premier League play.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
A fee of around $15 million breaks Hull City’s transfer record for a player.
Sep 1, 2014, 11:46 AM EDT
A season-long move to last year’s relegation threatened squad will see Green get valuable playing experience.
Sep 1, 2014, 11:23 AM EDT
The 27-year-old midfielder can’t catch a break, as his knee fails him yet again.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:57 AM EDT
Down the depth chart at Spurs, Sandro could be on his way to QPR. Borini would be a backup plan to Jermain Defoe.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from Week 3 in the PL.
Sep 1, 2014, 10:06 AM EDT
Stay up to date with everything happening on Deadline Day with our live ticker.
Sep 1, 2014, 9:39 AM EDT
Rumored to be wanted by Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, the young Italian star will instead stay at his current home.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:35 AM EDT
There’s going to be plenty of movement today, and the early morning brings us news on Jay Rodriguez, Alvaro Negred, Matija Nastasic, and more.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:55 AM EDT
Manchester United are reportedly close to securing a world-class striker for just $9 million.
Sep 1, 2014, 12:42 AM EDT
Roundup of MLS action this weekend.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Roundup of football transfers across Europe today.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Real Madrid manager insisted that his squad just lost focus on Sunday when they were upset by Real Sociedad.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
Darren Fletcher isn’t perturbed by Manchester United’s super-early season struggles.
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