After weeks of anticipation of what looked to be an easy win for Spanish Giants Barcelona, underdogs AC Milan seemed to be far from their 8th Champions League title. But Massimiliano Allegri devised a plan to weather the Spanish storm, a plan focusing to stop the opposition’s attacking efforts and make crucial breakaways in order to score themselves.
It was a defensive plan, yes, but Allegri still left room for the Serie A side to score goals. As the full time whistle was blown, AC Milan ended up with a vital clean sheet over Barca, and now head into the 2nd leg with a comfortable 2-goal advantage.
No one expected what was to come as the players from both squads marched on to the San Siro on Wednesday.
As usual, Barca used their typical 4-3-3 attacking formation, keen to go all guns blazing against the Milan defense. But unfortunately for them, that didn’t work, because as the game progressed, Milan’s similar starting line-up morphed into more of a 5-5-0 formation.
The squad was simply unable to attack, with Messi being virtually non-existent throughout the match. Every Barca player was man-marked by the opposition, and only 4 shots on target were attempted by them.
The first half of the match saw little to no action from either side, although Milan looked to be in control despite their lack of possession. Muntari almost opened the scoring on the 5th minute when his fireball of a shot from outside the area soared just over the crossbar.
Other notable moments in the 1st half included a breakaway from Stephen El Shaarawy, who was stopped in the box by Barca defender Carles Puyol which sent the ball out for a corner. Pazzini was extremely close to scoring a header off of Boateng’s perfect corner kick, but was unable to connect with the ball.
10 minutes into the 2nd half saw a free kick attempt from El Shaarawy after being fouled by Puyol. A series of passes following the kick saw Zapata handle the ball and land at Boateng’s feet, who drove it past goalkeeper Victor Valdes and into the bottom-right corner.
Unfortunately for Barca, the handball was left unnoticed.
Due to the strong AC Milan defense, set pieces seemed to be the only way Barca would ever score. Messi went up to take an extremely close-range free kick; a very dangerous situation for the Italian side. Messi’s shot went far above the crossbar, though, something extremely unlike him.
Iniesta had a chance to fire the ball past Abbiati, but his shot just skimmed the right post. Messi was given another chance with a free kick, but his shot went high once again, although by a bit lesser margin this time.
AC Milan sealed the deal on the 81st minute, when Sulley Muntari scored a similar shot into the bottom-right corner. M’Baye Niang sent a cross into the box, which El Shaarawy headed toward Muntari to double the lead at 2-0.
Puyol almost scored in the final minutes of the match, but the defender’s header sailed past the left post, ending the game with a comfortable Milan victory.
AC Milan’s tactics were extremely well thought out beforehand. Before their first goal, they were all about the defense, and it was extremely effective.
Going by Chelsea’s example from the semifinals of last year’s Champions League, the squad ultimately “parked the bus” in front of their own goal. Even El Shaarawy and Boateng pulled way back into the defensive half, and Pazzini stood in the midfield, ready for a breakaway.
After a goal is scored, teams tend to defend even more aggressively to protect the lead. Since that was simply impossible for Milan, they actually pushed a bit forward, without breaking apart their amazing defensive efforts as well.
For the final stretch, Milan focused on the midfield. Their ability to communicate well with each other set up their 2nd goal, which was the nail in the coffin at that point.
In the end, an important lesson we learned was that possession does not mean everything in the game. I Rossoneri had only 33% possession, but their unstoppable tactics were too much for even the best in the game, such as Barca, to handle.
No matter what team you support, you can’t deny that it was simply perfection on Milan’s part in all aspects of the match.
With the Champions League Round of 16 2nd legs fast approaching, Barca must stage a huge comeback at Nou Camp on March 12 if they want to advance.
To take a look at their chances, a 2-0 win would take the game to extra time. Meanwhile, a 3-1 win would be a victory for Milan, seeing that the criteria for settling a draw on aggregate requires more away goals than the opposition.
Therefore, if Milan score at least one goal, Barca must win on aggregate before full time, because the La Liga side was unable to rack up any goals in Italy.
And so an extremely important question in football has finally been answered: This, is exactly how you beat FC Barcelona.