UEFA Champions League: AC Milan 1-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Claudio Villa

A recap of the action at the UEFA Champions League Group Stage game between AC Milan and FC Barcelona

Despite heavily out-shooting the hosts, AC Milan, FC Barcelona were only able to take a point from the San Siro where the two European giants shared the spoils with a one-all draw. Robinho started the scoring early in the game as Barcelona looked to start the game with a 15 minute delay, but then tied the game through Lionel Messi. Both teams had chances to win the game, but the score at full time was the same as at halftime.


AC Milan


FC Barcelona


Possession


28%


72%


Total Shots


7


17


Shots on Target


2


6


Pass Accuracy


75%


91%


Fouls


18


9


Offsides


3


1


Yellow Cards


2


2


Red Cards


0


0


Coach Gerardo Martino left nothing to chance in this one as he fielded arguably the strongest and the most experienced lineup available. Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and Alexis Sanchez all returned to the pitch after being rested against Osasuna over the weekend. Javier Mascherano and Messi also returned to the starting lineup after their injuries. To some surprise Cesc Fabregas was left out of the starting XI, but that probably assures him a starting berth on Saturday in the El Clasico.

Barcelona started the game from midfield to loud whistles from the Italian fans. It took the hosts about a minute to get their first touch with the ball, but they immediately went on a quick counter with Kaka winning a corner kick that Valter Birsa sailed straight to a Barcelona defender. Milan's persistence in attack appeared to pay off in the 8th minute when Sulley Muntari found the back of the net, in a play that started with a terrible throw in by Alves, but the Ghana international found himself in an offside position.

The hosts weren't discouraged by that and were able to take the lead in the next minute. Javier Mascherano tried to clear the high ball, but due to poor contact with the ball he hit Robinho with the "clearance". The Brazilian then out-muscled Pique to the loose ball and played a lovely one two with Kaka which left Robinho all alone in the middle from where he made no mistake and beat Victor Valdes.

With the lead in hand the hosts pulled everybody but Robinho inside their 30 yards to frustrate the Catalans with the lack of space. Barcelona found it really difficult to make plays through the organized defense. Milan, however, even though they went to a defense-first mentality remained dangerous on counter attacks with the Blaugrana defense looking very shaky.

It took Barcelona 19 minutes to take their first shot, albeit wide of the goal. Lionel Messi tried to surprise Marco Amelia with a free kick from the right side, won by Alexis, that went just wide of the near post. They didn't need to wait very long for the next one, which came in the 24th minute. Milan turned the ball over in transition and Barcelona went on a 4-on-2 counter attack led by Andres Iniesta who found Messi wide open on the right side of the penalty box. Messi almost took one too many touches as he suddenly found himself between three defenders, but he still managed to get enough on the ball to beat Amelia and tie the game at one.

The goal lifted Barcelona and the visitors continued to press forward. Scoring chances weren't easy to come by, but they did come in quick succession to Messi and Neymar, but Messi's header was blocked while Neymar's long range try whistled a couple feet wide of Amelia's left post.

In the 37th minute Xavi sent an excellent ball over the defensive line to set up the onrushing Alexis, who beat his marker, and won himself enough space for a first-time shot. Alexis prepared himself perfectly for the shot, but his attempt was too weak and it didn't pose too much trouble to the Milan goalkeeper. Five minutes later Messi was played through, but Cristián Zapata put his right foot in front of the Argentine and blocked his attempt. At the stroke of halftime Neymar was presented with one last opportunity of the half, but his right footed drive went just wide of the far post.

The second half started with neither team making any changes to their personnel. Similar to the first half, Milan started the second with high pressure, sending three crosses in the first minute and a half, but all were cleared by the Barcelona defense. However, unlike in the first half, it didn't take the visitors 15 minutes to actually start playing. Lionel Messi created a couple chances with dazzling dribbling, but the passes following those moves were off the mark.

Barcelona remained vulnerable on the counter though, and was lucky not to concede in the 51st minute when Muntari sent a brilliant ball to Robinho, who found plenty of space in the penalty box, but whiffed and didn't even get a shot off. Barcelona quickly replied to Milan's opportunity with some lovely tiki-taka that left Iniesta in a dangerous position, but he wasn't able to get enough power on the shot to beat Amelia. Xavi followed that with a shot of his own on the next play, but he too was bested by the man between the uprights.

The game then went into a stretch of very few chances with Milan very rarely venturing forward, mainly due to the fact that Robinho and Kaka appeared tired and weren't able to lead their team on counterattacks. For that reason, to improve their attacking effectiveness, the hosts made substitutions to replace both Brazilians with Mario Balotelli and Urby Emanuelson.

In between the two substitutions, that were seven minutes apart, Messi found the largely invisible Adriano, who had a great opportunity to put his team in front, but he couldn't get the shot on target. In the 74th minute Martino made his first change of the game, taking off Alexis and replacing him with Cesc.

Cesc had a chance to break the deadlock after just four minutes on the pitch, but he couldn't head Messi's free kick into the unguarded part of the net. The former Arsenal player remained very involved in play over the next few minutes and earned himself a yellow card for his participation. Likely to get Neymar some rest before the El Clasico Martino then replaced the Brazilian with Pedro.

With the speed of play noticeably slowing down Milan were able to create a few good chances on the counter, the best one coming courtesy of Muntari - who was clearly offside, but the linesman missed it. Thankfully Mascherano was there to make the sliding tackle which disrupted the play enough for Muntari to handle the ball and stop the play.

In the 87th minute Cesc won a free kick in a position just about perfect for Messi. Messi indeed did take the kick, but hit the wall, which was probably a couple feet too close to the spot of the foul - something the Barcelona players pointed out, but the referee decided to ignore. Three minutes were added on, but neither Barcelona nor Milan were able to create any chances that could've changed the score. With the point Barcelona maintained a two point lead over Milan in Group H.

After consecutive draws Barcelona will look to return to winning ways in the spectacle that is El Clasico. The Camp Nou will host Real Madrid who will try to further close the gap at the top of the La Liga table. This will arguably be the biggest challenge the Tata Martino led team has faced so far this season.

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