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.
May 25, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT
Few games can make an entire season the way one victory in the Rome derby can do. Only this time, there was CL football on the line.
May 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
It’s time to look back at the men who shaped the Premier League’s teams this season: the managers victorious, and gone.
May 25, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
The workers would make close to $300 a month for the full-time work.
May 25, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT
The American club wisely made its role in the advertisement understated, as it salutes its new midfielder.
May 25, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT
The Italian manager had more or less conceded his job status earlier Monday due to a bout with cervical stenosis.
May 25, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
It’s time to take a look back at the seasons of four American players in the Premier League, and one who is no longer.
May 25, 2015, 11:56 AM EDT
It’s called the richest game in the world, with an estimated $180 million on the line, though it didn’t provide a wealth of scoring chances.
May 25, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT
Now, it’s time to take a look back at — in no particular order — 10 storylines that helped make the Premier League season a memorable one.
May 25, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
Norwich is hoping for a quick fire return to the PL after being relegated last season, while Middlesbrough was sent packing to the second flight in 2009.
May 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
See what Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino tabbed as top of the pops in a surprisingly QPR-heavy Top Ten list.
May 25, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT
The Hammers have specific characteristics in mind for the next Premier League boss at the Boleyn Ground.
May 25, 2015, 7:54 AM EDT
Morales played sparingly for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga from 2011-12.
May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
MLS is reportedly pursing the signatures of Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.
May 24, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT
Roundup of Serie A’s final Sunday of the 2014-15 campaign.
May 24, 2015, 9:28 PM EDT
Final: San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Orlando City SC
May 24, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Pulis on chairman Jeremy Peace selling West Brom: “I think he wants to get an investor in or someone who can financially take the club onto another level.”
May 24, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Final: NYRB 0-2 Philadelphia Union
May 24, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Alan Pardew has seen Crystal Palace rise to snag a 10th place Premier League finish.
May 24, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Manchester City ended its Premier League season in second place, and manager Manuel Pellegrini is optimistic about his job safety.
May 24, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Dortmund has its first signing in the post-Klopp era.
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