I never, even for a second, thought this game was going to be easy. I always knew they were going to put in a fight. Harder games like this are expected especially at this stage of the competition, but our team has always been known to put in a fight no matter what. The tie has two legs for a reason, because it’s never meant to be won or lost in the first leg only. Napoli and even Milan to some extent will testify that winning the first doesn’t necessarily mean that you are through. What the first leg does is to help you learn your opponent and draft a serious and possibly flawless plan going in to the second and final leg.
We are in the middle of this tie now and very far from finishing it. Our defense will need to come out and display an even better performance, our midfield will have to be more creative and the guys leading from the front will have to finish better for us to go through. We have one more advantage going into any game and that is the fact that we are the Champions, and I’m happy that we played exactly like that in this game.
The Ratings are after the jump:
Victor Valdes 7.0
He made some breathtaking saves during the game. The game could have ended on a sour note for us, especially since our boys could not get the elusive away goal. That one-on-one save against Zlatan on the 20th min was the scariest of the lot. There were a lot of dangerous balls into his penalty box that a took care of without a fuss. Here is to hoping he pulls out an even better performance in the return leg.
Daniel Alves 6.5
He was not at his best, but did some solid defensive work at the back to keep out an Italian team with big dreams. Although he was left for dead a couple of times by Boateng and Ibra, his colleagues in defense were there to rescue him. He was very good on the ball going forward, but his decision making will be questioned by many; choosing to make a cross when a pass would have been the better option and vice versa.
Piquenbauer as some call him, something changed in the last few days (or weeks) as he seems to be back to his mesmerizing best. He tackled well, won aerial duels and communicated well with his teammates at the back. He was also very good (as usual) when building play from deep in defense, helping the midfield and making crucial interceptions. Our chances of conceding with him on this kind of form are very very slim; he should keep it up, especially in the second leg.
Who was surprised when he pulled off a heroic clean tackle in the 18 yard box just ten minutes into the game? I wasn’t because I learned to expect such from him, and he doesn’t disappoint. Milan played a lot of high balls and we were lucky because he (and the rest of the defense) was good on the air. He also helped in midfield and made counter-attack breaking interceptions. He’s having a very good season and here’s hoping for more of the same, or even better.
I heard he was one yellow card away from suspension and if that’s the case everything he did in this game shocks me. He was fearless and very hard on the tackle. He won so many crucial balls and played left-back like that’s where he belongs. He played the entire game with heart, he wants to win this trophy and everything he did on the pitch supports that fact. He almost got us the goal on the 78th min when his header from a Xavi corner drifted just a few inches off target.
Busi is one of the players we have when it comes to leading the charts in consistency, he is very good and he shows it every time he enters the field. Xavi was a little advanced in this game and that made Busquets a boss over a larger area of the pitch than usual. He retained possession very well; tackling, passing and intercepting. It’s the way in which he stops an attack, shields the ball and play it until he can find a safer target to pass, some have a word for it and they call it ‘recycling’. All his passes were brilliant, especially the longer ones.
Most were surprised when they saw him on the team sheet and his inclusion only made sense to most after the game was underway. He was decent in his box-to-box role and helped create more options in attack for the team. A couple of his tackles were mistimed though and he couldn’t get away with one on Ambrosini on the 61st min. we can never know if Cesc could have delivered a better performance, which is why we need to appreciate everything Keita was able to give.
Xavi Hernandez 7.0
He was playing a more advanced role than he normally does and I think his ability to get on the score sheet this season has got a lot to do with it. He was his usual self on the ball and his ball distribution was flawless. He tried to get on the score sheet a couple of times but his shot was either off-target, blocked or saved, his effort two minutes into stoppage time had desperation written all over it. He also displayed some telepathic combinations with Messi through a congested Milan defense which showed how dangerous he can be in an advanced role.
Andres Iniesta 6.5
It was a forgettable performance from Andres and it’s not the first time we see one of those whenever he’s deployed on the wing. He was either stuck on the wing (and left to battle against two Milan fullbacks) or he drifted inside and left us without width, which made the middle even more congested. Once he fumbled a dangerous 1-2 with Messi when it could have resulted in something amazing, like a goal, and both his shots on the 39th and 46th minutes were wide off-target. He was replaced by Tello on the 65th minute and I’m not really sure if it was to protect him against the state of the San Siro pitch (seeing as he’s injury prone) or if he was spotted as ineffective.
Alexis Sanchez 7.0 Out 76’
He had a very good game and I credit the compact Milan defense for his lack of goals. I remember him keeping a strong counter attacking chance alive on the 35th min after Messi was fouled and he sprinted so fast like his life depended on it only for Antonini to make a last ditch block to deny him a shot on target (and more possibly a goal). His work-rate was very important especially defensively as he helped to win and retain possession. The ref and his assistants were all simultaneously blinking when he was brought down in the box on what looked to me like an obvious penalty. He left the pitch on the 76th min to be replaced by Pedro.
Too many things left him frustrated in this game as he tried very hard to carry us into the next round. When he had an opportunity, the defense was either very good, gave him extreme rough treatment (of which the ref sometimes looked away) or the pitch put in a well timed tackle. He started the game a little deeper than normal which was understandable considering how defensive Milan was. He was responsible in too many of our chances, as he dribbled, passed and pressed for the ball but the elusive goal was not to be. Here is to hoping he scores four next week, like in the Arsenal demolition the other year.
Cristian Tello 6.5 In 65’
He came in around the hour mark to replace Andres Iniesta. He was attacking dangerously on the 68th min but was unlucky not to beat his man as the ball went out for a goal kick. He then went on to hit the side netting with his weaker foot on the 73rd min from a position I feel he should had done better. He had another chance later on the 81st min but he was very slow to take the shot as he was marked out of it. He then managed to get me off my seat, with three minutes of regulation time remaining, when his pace could not get him to the ball in time to finish a ball which was hovering in front of goal after a Messi rebound. He played well in my opinion, I’m not sure if anyone disagrees.
Pedro Rodriguez N/A In 76’
He came in late to replace Alexis and did not see enough of the ball to qualify for a full rating.
The team had a good game and the effort they put could have won it for us on another day. The defense gave a performance I’ve never seen them do in a long time and the midfield was there as well helping us keep position and creating chances. Our attack was marked out of the game for the majority of it and credit should be to Milan, but the pitch was on Milan’s side as well as we literally slipped our best chances away. They need to be more creative in the return leg as there is no way we are going through without scoring.
He had a good game our coach and most of the things that went wrong were beyond his control. I am one of those people who support his decision to start Keita but I feel like he should have opted for Cesc Fabregas
in the second half seeing as the first half ended in a stalemate and Cesc is better in front of goal, unless if he saw it as the only way we were going to keep a clean sheet. I know he’ll be extremely ready in the second leg to take us through into the next round.
We face Athletic Bilbao in our next Liga round on Saturday and the team needs to keep the fighting spirit alive because who knows, maybe we still have a shot at a treble. Bilbao will be a tough fixture for us and Milan next Tuesday will be even tougher. We need to remain stronger and calmer in the next few weeks or months and take it a game at a time in order to be victorious in the end.