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.
Mar 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
It could be a dark year in Commerce City, but don’t forget that this was a promising young team that floundered last year.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:47 PM EST
The brash Englishman is happy to call the win a turning point for his club, which moves out of the relegation zone for the time being.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:28 PM EST
Videos, recaps, analysis and more from the three PL games during Week 28 on Tuesday.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:53 PM EST
After a late win against Palace ended their goal drought, Saints remain in the top four hunt.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:52 PM EST
The pair of managers had to be separated on the touchline after Poyet angrily approached Bruce, who had been loudly criticizing a dive from Sunderland’s Jack Rodwell.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:17 PM EST
This should be the year TFC breaks its MLS playoffs’ duck. But nothing’s ever certain in Toronto.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
Villa net late win after PK drama, move out of relegation zone.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
Relief for Southampton, as Mane’s goal seals crucial win to keep top four hopes alive.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
The Tigers stay a point ahead of Sunderland. Hull is in 15th place with 27 points.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Watch the second half of all three PL games on Tuesday, right here.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:29 PM EST
A referee in Cyprus has come clean, describing an incredibly deep-rooted problem of match-fixing in the country that makes us wonder how prevalent this problem really is.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:35 PM EST
The FA says the finding of “significant new information” has led them to extend the investigation.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:09 PM EST
A massive relegation six-pointer between these two north east rivals. Watch live online, here.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Can Villa get their first win under Sherwood in this huge Midlands derby? Watch live online, right here.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
Can Saints get back to winning ways as old boss Pardew brings Palace to town? Watch live online, here.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:33 PM EST
With just over 72 hours to go until the MLS season kicks off, talks between the league and the Players Union still ongoing.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:08 PM EST
The Dynamo have a few new pieces and Owen Coyle is a trailblazer, but things still smell of the failures of last year, and this season looks to be a mountain for the Dynamo to climb.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:05 PM EST
Could the former USMNT head coach move into an executive role for the first time?
Mar 3, 2015, 11:36 AM EST
Which one of Major League Soccer’s new stars will make the biggest impact? There are plenty of familiar faces, but also a few new ones looking to make a name for themselves.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:19 AM EST
He will stay as owner and has appointed his 23-year-old grandson as his successor.
- Tuesday’s Premier League roundup: Saints, Villa win; Hull, Sunderland draw 0
- 2015 MLS season preview: Toronto FC 0
- Aston Villa 2-1 West Bromwich Albion: Late drama hands Sherwood first win (video) 0
- Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace: Mane’s late goal gets Saints back on track (video) 0
- Update on MLS labor strike: Players Union, league at impasse as situation looks dire 8
- 2015 MLS Season Preview: Top 10 Newcomers 0