The 2-0 loss in the San Siro coupled with a double defeat to Real Madrid highlights how difficult the past two weeks have been for Barcelona.
There was no doubt when the final whistle blew in Milan, this was a bad night for Barcelona. 66% possession for the Catalans but the kind of sterile possession that makes it difficult to create clear cut chances. A total of six shots, only two of which were on target and neither had troubled Abbiati.
If it were a game in isolation, it would be written off. A bad day at the office. This is not a luxury Tito Vilanova and Jordi Roura can afford this time around. The same performance was displayed at the Camp Nou, against Madrid and again at the Bernabeu. Flat, no spark, unable to break a solid defence. The Copa del Rey and the league is over, but there's still hope in the Champions League.
There is a second leg to come and a chance for redemption against the Italian outfit. A chance to correct the mistakes into goals and convert the sterile possession into familiar domination.
With the league title as good as won, Europe will define Barcelona's season and with the crucial second leg coming after two Clásicos, there is no doubt this is the toughest period of Barcelona's season.
Calling it a make or break period isn't accurate, this season is already a success by reclaiming the league title from Real Madrid with relative ease. But this period will be the turning point from a good season to a great season.
The talk of a crisis has largely been diverted by Real Madrid. Losing the league title, disharmony in the dressing room and bust-ups between head coach and president has made watching Madrid this season seem like watching a soap opera. But Barcelona's surprising loss of form has sparked many debates on what is the cause for the blip.
Before the Copa Clásico, Dani Alves commented on Madrid's disharmony and how he is expecting a response in the Clásicos. "I expect a Madrid who will go for everything because their whole season is on the line in the Copa and the Champions League,"
Messi too wanted Barcelona to forget the recent slip-ups and focus, "We must not drive ourselves crazy about the result in Milan or the first half against Sevilla," the Argentine commented "We have to pull ourselves together because there are some decisive games coming up."
With the Clásicos now gone it is clear to see that this period could have gone a whole lot better for Barcelona. Knocked out of the competition where they are reigning champions and conceding their second league defeat of the season, leave question marks on how Barcelona can rediscover their form.
It is evident how badly Barcelona miss recovering coach Tito Vilanova. "When the boss is not there, everyone misses him," commented Sergio Busquets, "His absence is noticed and the day-to-day work is more difficult." While Vilanova's exact return date is not known, "He is longing to come back, hoping for the process to finish, which is due at the end of March." Confirmed club president Sandro Rosell, Barcelona for now have to forget about their lost leader and focus on overhauling the two goal deficit.
Busquets, the newly crowned Catalan Player of the Year, spoke of the team's confidence in recovering against Milan "The players are the first ones who believe in the comeback. It is clear we are coming from some negative results, but we are the first who think we are going to turn it around, that we have a final to play."
Xavi Hernandez highlighted the importance of Tuesday's game. ""We are playing for our season on Tuesday," he told El Mundo Deportivo. While the ever vocal Dani Alves threw in his two cents "We will try to win, but if we do not take risks we will not win. We are not afraid."
So back to the main question, can Barcelona comeback against Milan? If they play as Alves says "at ten out of ten" then Barcelona will overcome the 2-0 deficit. But Barcelona have not recently been playing at ten out of ten, the Milan performance in fact would be lucky to make it past a five out of ten.
The main cause for concern is the defence. Clean sheets have been a rarity for Barça, putting aside the 2-0 victory last weekend, it was more than a month ago since Barcelona's last clean sheet against Cordoba in the previous round of the Copa del Rey. Against the weaker teams, this is not a massive issue for because of the team's "we'll score more then you" attitude, but against the likes of Madrid and Milan this is a concerning issue.
It is hard to not see Milan scoring at the Camp Nou, meaning Barcelona will need a minimum of four goals to qualify for the next round. This for me is the crucial factor to whether Barça qualifies. I think a clean sheet will be vital. The defenders need to give the team as big as chance as possible of coming back.
A key player will be Alves. In the first leg the Barcelona full-back left too much space on the wing as he offered cover in the centre of defence. An example of this is Milan's second goal, Dani Alves is pulled across the penalty area, allowing Muntari enough time to place the ball out of Valdés' reach.
At the other end of the pitch, Lionel Messi remains Barcelona's biggest goal threat but the number 10 hasn't looked himself recently. While Messi continued his La Liga goal scoring streak against Madrid and Deportivo, his recent performances have fallen someway short of the high standard expected of the Argentine.
A team like Milan leave little room near their defensive third, meaning Messi is forced to drop deeper and deeper to gain possession. This means when Messi does collect the ball, the number of men he has to beat to get into a goal scoring opportunity has doubled. The defensive midfielders such as Alonso and Montolivo get first try at stopping him with the centre-backs ready to pounce should they fail.
Another aspect of the second leg is the pitch. Jordi Roura described the Italians pitch as a "potato-field" and "not right for a match like this." The Camp Nou pitch is bigger than the San Siro, will be perfectly cut and wet making it the ideal conditions for Barcelona's tiki-taka style. The width will also stretch Milan's defence and will benefit wingers such as Pedro in finding space to exploit. This will be a key advantage to Barcelona's game.
In my eyes, this game is by no means over. It is impossible to rule out a team with the talent such as Iniesta, Fàbregas, Xavi and Messi. But Barcelona will need to be at "ten out of ten" to overcome a tough, well organised Milan side.
Will Barcelona comeback?
Yes (64 votes)
No (30 votes)
94 total votes