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.
Inside Look: Not much separating Red Bulls, Revolution ahead of Eastern Conference Championship, leg 1
Nov 21, 2014, 11:45 PM EST
You could try to use the Red Bulls’ 2014 season to make inferences about what will happen Sunday against the Revs, but it’d be a huge waste of your time.
Nov 21, 2014, 10:30 PM EST
Go ahead and try to be as good as Robbie Keane. Give it your best shot. Good luck, you’re going to need it.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
Zinedine Zidane can return to coaching after his nonsensical coaching suspension was lifted on Friday. Perhaps “qualified” needs redefining.
VIDEO: Louis van Gaal calls Wayne Rooney “not a typical striker,” praises versatility ahead of Arsenal showdown
Nov 21, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
Louis van Gaal has called Wayne Rooney “not a typical striker,” but a “fantastic player” nonetheless before Arsenal showdown.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:30 PM EST
Where and how to watch every single PL game in Week 12.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:15 PM EST
It’s tempting to look ahead and crown the LA Galaxy MLS Cup champions already. A word of warning: Don’t do it at the Sounders’ expense.
MLS Cup Playoffs Preview: Red Bulls vs. Revolution, Galaxy vs. Sounders in Conference Championship first legs
Nov 21, 2014, 6:15 PM EST
The 2014 season is nearly finished, as the MLS Cup Playoffs resume this weekend. A few facts and stats to excite ahead of Sunday’s action.
Nov 21, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
Dear haters: Jermaine hears you, is not bothered by you and still loves you. Look out, Red Bulls.
Nov 21, 2014, 3:10 PM EST
The English-born coach has had big success in Orlando since the club began play in 2011, winning the regular season title in three of four seasons.
Nov 21, 2014, 2:20 PM EST
Whitecaps FC 2 will compete in metro Vancouver at Thunderbird Stadium inside of the University of British Columbia.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:35 PM EST
The quota request comes after the BBC conducted a “State of the Game” survey that dug into the international representation in the Premier League.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:50 PM EST
Can the Baggies improve on last year’s point at Stamford Bridge?
Nov 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
I’m a fan of Batman, but seems to me “The Dark Knight” should consider rocking Valencia’s bat rather than his own. Looks slick.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Here’s how PST’s lead writer and editor sees things panning out this weekend.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:05 AM EST
So to the MLS players, coaches and “media members who regularly covered the league”, sit back and enjoy your biggest screw-ups.
Nov 21, 2014, 10:14 AM EST
Welbeck is used to being on the side of the favorites in this matchup, as Manchester United has dominated the series in recent years.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:25 AM EST
Danny Welbeck’s first Premier League game against his former team is just one subplot as the Gunners host the Red Devils.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:41 AM EST
All Americans plying their trade in the Premier League have a decent look at points, while two in the Championship will opening things up with Friday matches.
Nov 21, 2014, 7:49 AM EST
Paris Saint-Germain has claimed the last two Trophées with wins over Bordeaux and Guingamp, but this year’s table is clustered.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:17 AM EST
Swansea manager Garry Monk is hoping for the best as the Swans journey to play Manchester City at the Etihad this weekend.
- Inside Look: Not much separating Red Bulls, Revolution ahead of Eastern Conference Championship, leg 1 0
- WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 12 0
- Inside Look: LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders to square off in Western Conference Championship, leg 1 0
- Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City 0
- These deserving nominees are the biggest snubs of MLS Award season 4
- Former Man Utd teammates Welbeck, Rooney prepares for “weird” match as Arsenal hosts Red Devils 0