FC Barcelona were made to work for three points against a tough AC Milan side at the San Siro in an epic encounter. Mark Van Bommel was unfortunate enough to open the scoring with an own goal for his former club, before a Zlatan Ibrahimovic equaliser levelled things up. Barcelona pulled back in-front before half-time through a Lionel Messi penalty after a foul on Xavi. Kevin-Prince Boateng again levelled the scores with a fine individual effort before Lionel Messi set up Xavi for the winner, thus securing Group H for the reigning champions.
Pep Guardiola opted against Gerard Pique in the centre of defense, and his line up suggested a 3-4-3 that struck fear into everyone’s minds. How would Barcelona cope with Milan’s pace on the counter? So many questions, and we were about to find out the answers.
First act of the game was Zlatan Ibrahimovic with an ill-timed challenge on Seydou Keita, but this set the tone for the whole game. So, Ibra, I thank you, and so does the rest of the world. The game was fairly slow in the first ten minutes, with David Villa blasting over from the left-hand side, and Clarence Seedorf rolling back the years to 360 turn Lionel Messi. After the tenth minute, it all went crazy.
Milan had been the better of the two sides, but Lionel Messi switched the ball to Seydou Keita, and the Malian supplied a cross along the six-yard box. Whether the final touch came off of Mark Van Bommel or Xavi is irrelevant; FC Barcelona were ahead. The Blaugrana were trying to find their swagger, and Thiago showed a glimpse with a delightful chip to Cesc Fabregas, but his volley was stopped by Christian Abbiati in the Milan goal.
However, Milan were fighting back, and their response was nearly instantaneous. Ibrahimovic did well on the left-wing sending in a cross past Robinho, but the ball was set back and the Brazilian had a great chance to equal the scoring from three yards out. Unfortunately for the ex-Real Madrid man, he could not capitalise, blazing over such an easy chance. That wouldn’t stop Ibrahimovic soon after as Clarence Seedorf took advantage of some lax defending from Javier Mascherano to slip the ball in behind Carles Puyol to the Swede. Of course, Ibra make no mistake with the finish.
End to end stuff in the San Siro, but this was just the start. Cesc Fabregas sent in a similar cross to Keita’s for the first goal, and this time Messi was on the end of it, but La Pulga showed his human side, hitting the bar instead of the back of the net. Cesc was getting more and more involved, and he acted as the "wall" in Xavi’s one-two. This made sure Xavi was through on goal, but Alberto Aquilani pulled him back. Some are suggesting it was a dive; I am not too sure either way.
Alessandro Nesta got booked, presumably for dissent and up stepped Lionel Messi. With a stutter at the end he slotted the ball home, until the referee stopped the celebrations and booked him for unsporting conduct. Again Messi stepped up, and this time he powered it into the bottom corner. FC Barcelona were 2-1 up in the San Siro.
Minutes after Barca had a chance for a third, but Abbiati denied David Villa with a world-class stop. Villa was cutting in from the left, opened up his body and went for the corner, but the keeper pushed the ball into the turf and it bounced over the bar. Mark Van Bommel was booked for a dangerous tackle on Xavi before Robinho was denied by a superb last ditch tackle by Javier Mascherano.
There was still enough time in the half for Puyol to receive a booking for a rash challenge on Kevin-Prince Boateng, and for Eric Abidal to follow suit after pulling back Boateng. The half was over, and the world could take a breather. Quite simply a great half of football.
The second half started with a penalty claim, as Cesc Fabregas got the better of abate, but the referee did not judge it sufficient contact. To me, it looked more blatant than the first one, but there we go. Wolfgang Stark had a poor game, far too inconsistent for my liking. So many bookings missed, let alone the numerous players who could have received their marching orders for persistent fouling.
Milan were still in the game, and in the 53rd minute, they grabbed a goal out of nothing. A ball into the box was headed towards Ibrahimovic by Alexandre Pato, but Mascherano got there first, heading it across goal. Boateng controlled it with ease, and skipped past Abidal before beating Valdes at his near post: a great goal from Kevin-Prince Boateng.
However, Barcelona were still pushing forward, and were on top. Just after the hour mark Lionel Messi thread a pass between four Milan players and Xavi was there to slot the ball home. A typical Barcelona goal, it was magnificently crafted by the team, and a glimpse of what Barcelona can do in top form, but whether they can sustain that form is beyond me.
Lionel Messi again posed a threat with a run down the line, and Thiago Silva came across with the foul. Thiago delivered the free-kick with the outside of his boot; it was a joyous pass and Alexis was on the end of it and his touch nearly found its way into the net, but Abbiati again stopped Barcelona from scoring. The game petered out after that, with Barcelona keeping possession and slowing the tempo with a couple of substitutions including the return of Pedro after a long absence.
Man of the match goes to Lionel Messi, for his 25th goal of the season and 12th assist. Simply sublime from the Argentine. Next up is Getafe in La Liga action on Saturday.
¡Visca el Barca!