Being a footballer is a very difficult job and a lot of us fans don't often realize it. When you are the best in your team, you are expected to come through and rescue your teammates when the going gets tough, the pressure is always on you to deliver. You are criticized for everything that goes wrong because whether you like it or not, you are a leader. It is worse when you are the weaker link in your team, when you are the one more vulnerable to making mistakes, because you play with fear. You have your fair share of pressure; you never want to be the one to take the blame for a silly mistake at the end of the game, you always have the small voice in your head that keeps telling you to "be careful fool, what if they never play you again" and so you mind your every move and only take the long awaited deep breath when the final whistle blows.
It is a slightly different case being a footballer who plays for FC Barcelona; because it is the entire team and not the individual that makes it tick. When you are having a bad day, your teammates cover for you. As long as the team plays well and bring the desired result, the individual(s) who occasionally goes anonymous in the game is easily forgotten or forgiven and hence the pressure on everyone is lowered.
Micheal Jordan, the famous basket ball player, once said that "talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins you championships", this game between the two giants at the San Siro had all those qualities and to say that it was amazing to watch will be an understatement. Let's see how the players performed individually to end up toping group H as they look forward to the knockout stages of the competition:
Victor Valdes 6.0
Valdes is a very good goal keeper for Barcelona; he's good on the ball, can distribute the ball very well, helps build up play from the back and is absolutely fantastic at one-on-one situations. But he was unfortunately exposed in this game. He could not do much about Zlatan's goal to make it 1-1 and bring Milan back into the game. It is the second goal for Milan that perhaps earns the Spanish shot-stopper some deserved criticism. Not taking anything away from the scorer, Bauteng did deserve to beat Abidal with the great talent he showed but not beating our goal keeper at his near post. The overall team performance helps cuts him some slack but he will need to do better to win us the clasico.
Carles Puyol 6.0 Yellow
Our captain was one of the busiest people in this game, covering for the absent Alves at the Right-Back position. He was occasionally exposed by Zlatan mostly in the first half hour and his attempted last ditch clearance could not interrupt Seedorf's brilliant through ball for Zlatan's equalizer. He also misplaced a couple of passes under pressure and after some repeated fouls, the ref did not hesitate to book him for a foul on Bauteng on the 43rd minute. On the positive side, he did stop a couple of dangerous counter attacks from Robinho. He also upped his game in the 2nd half and we Cules should be glad that nothing in this game suggested that his fitness was an issue. At this rate he will most likely be ready for the highly anticipated clash with rivals Madrid.
Javier Mascherano 6.5 Yellow
The former Liverpool man was playing below the standard he set for himself in the center back position for Barcelona. He was the man responsible for marking Ibrahimovic when the Swedish scored Milan's first goal and he lost his man giving him enough room in the box to hit the target unpressured. His well timed last-ditch tackle in the 41st minute saved the team from conceding before half time but a foul was called a minute later outside the box for a similar mis-timed tackle on Robinho. Another one of his famous tackles on Pato earned him a yellow card with five minutes of normal time remaining.
Eric Abidal 6.5 Yellow
Like most of his defending teammates, he made a lot of errors defensively, but he was a phenomenon whenever he got the chance to attack. His good control and calmness on the ball helped to build attacks from deep and was his usual self in this category. If it all ended there, he could have got a clean 8.0 rating, but he spoiled it by being terrorized by Bauteng on a number of occasions. He should probably cut himself some slack for Milan's 2nd goal because after being caught wrong footed by Bauteng, there was no catching the flying Ghanaian who showed great skill and composure to find space and the rest was cake. He added himself to a long list of Barca players who got into the ref's book in the 45th minute when he uncharacteristically pulled Robinho by the shoulders when it looked like the Brazilian might have been clear on goal.
Sergio Busquets 7.0
Now this man was simply the better one in the Blaugrana defensively, in a position which had most Cules holding their heads when the lineup was officially announced. He made no recognizable errors in this game and the ball circulation he normally perfects at CDM was one of his secret weapons in defense. He even adopted one of Keita's skills in this game, doing most of the work off the ball. His passing was at its usual best. His big moment came in the dying moments of the game, in stoppage time to be precise. We the fans of the Spanish side were holding our breaths hoping that the events of the fixture at the Camp don't repeat, and they almost did. A smart Seedorf pass could have found Pato alone in the box but Sergio's interception saved the day.
Seydou Keita 7.0
Simply put, the Malian international was simply fantastic in this game especially in the first half. Every good Barca attack had him involved. He linked play very well from defense to midfield and his passing was productive as well. He is the man who made the final pass in the build up to that Van Bommel own goal which gave Barca the lead in the 14th minute. He did slow down in the second half but the score could have been different without this man on the pitch.
Cesc Fabregas 6.5 Out 79'
I am starting to worry about the former Arsenal captain. He needs to realize that the golie is not his target because too often he is released openly by his teammates and he hits the ball right at the keeper. Still, credit to him for always managing to find the space and positioning himself dangerously for the opposition, but he's going to have to rediscover his shooting boots if we are to repeat November the 29th. On the more positive side, he showed great combination with Messi on the 26th minute and on the two occasions where he had good long dribbles he was fouled. He was eventually substituted on the 79th minute for Pedro.
Xavi Hernandez 8.0
The midfield Maestro played a vital part in this game even though he didn't give Barca the usual amount of possession they are used to having when dominating games. He even misplaced a couple of passes under pressure, they were not a lot but they were worth noting for a man of his standards. His through ball on the 5th minute should have given us an earlier lead if only Thiago controlled the ball well. He was the man who was fouled in the box to win the penalty that got the team their second goal of the night on the 30th minute. The goal he scored in the 63rd minute, which became the winning goal, had something beautiful to be noted. Xavi scores wonderful goals in games but in this one, he uncharacteristically swapped positions with Messi and generated a world class finish after a pass of a similar standard from Messi. We should hope he remains fit until the Match at the Bernabeu and continue his current run of form.
Thiago Alcantara 7.5 Out 90'
His performance in this game further extend the amount of proof available to show that this young man will be a great success for Barcelona. If you still remember what I said earlier about players covering for each other, you will be glad to hear that Thiago was covering for Xavi for the majority of this game. After he failed to control the ball very well in the opening five minutes, he never made another mistake. He was running the show in midfield; passing the ball very well, circulating it, and doing a lot of defensive work in the process. He is the man who started the jaw-dropping team move that got the first goal after controlling the ball very well near the near the corner flag on the right and beating two defenders in the process before passing the ball to Messi. He created loads of chances for his teammates and they should probably have rewarded him with an assist. Too many dangerous attacks were initiated by him and he never slowed down in the second half until he was substituted in stoppage time for Jonathan Dos Santos.
David Villa 5.5 Out 67'
Spain's record goal scorer was awful in this game and Sanchez, who substituted him in the 67th minute, should probably have started instead of him. When he was given a clean pass in the dangerous places of Milan's half, he either shot over the bar, wide off-target or straight at the keeper and he was 6 yards from goal on multiple occasions when that happened. I hope he starts the following league clash so we can see if we are happy about him starting in the Clasico.
Lionel Messi 8.0
Messi's talent and intelligence helped get Barca the three points in this game, he was unstoppable. After receiving the ball from Thiago on the right he made a great long pass to Keita on the left in the making of the team's opening goal in the 14th minute. He was only about six yards from goal when he received a great cross from the left on the 22nd minute before hitting the crossbar with his effort. The yellow card he received in the 30th minute for bending the rule when taking a penalty added to his all time long list of silly bookings. He didn't make any mistake when retaking it and gave the team their second lead in the game. He continued to give Milan's defense a lot of trouble in the second half. His unbelievable through pass to Xavi for the winning goal had to go through a tight space between about 4 defenders before finding its target. He is going to be the difference maker in a lot of decisive games this season with his current run of form.
Alexis Sanchez 7.0 In 67'
He came in for Villa with only about a third of the game remaining and had a fantastic game. He almost scored off a free kick two minutes after coming in and made a lot of tracking back to help defensively. Two men were always on him even though he was playing from flank to flank but he gave them a lot of trouble none the less. I am voting for him to start instead of Villa against Madrid if nothing Changes until then.
Pedro Rodriguez N/A In 79'
He came in for Cesc with about 10 minutes of normal time remaining. He played very well and pressed very hard but his involvement was not enough to get him a rating.
Jonathan Dos Santos N/A In 90'
He came in for Thiago one minute into stoppage time and didn't even touch the ball
Pep Guardiola 7.5
He is always full of surprises this man and his lineup was jaw-dropping. He does it in difficult games and I'm thinking he wants to lower the pressure on his players by taking the blame in case anything goes wrong. But like I said, some excel and some a weaker in the game, but by covering for each other and playing as a team they always emerge on top in the end. He probably should not have started Villa and I'm not sure how the game could have ended if Pique had played but the team's result helps us forget those kinds of things.
I give the team a 7 for showing their fighting spirit and emerging on top in a very difficult game. The defense gets a 6 for being very shaky for the majority of the game. The midfield gets an 8 and the attack gets a 7 for failing to convert a lot of chances.
AC Milan's Honorable Mentions
Christian Abbiati 7.0
Goal keepers always do well against us and he too did just that. Without his efforts, the game could easily have ended with 8 goals for the Spanish giants. He conceded more than Valdes but he was definitely better than him.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 7.5
The Swedish international had a fantastic game against his former side. He's the only man in Milan's team who seemed to know what makes Barca's defense tick because he terrorized it a lot especially in the 1st half. He lost his marker very well in the box to get his team the equalizer in the 20th minute.
Kevin Prince Bauteng 7.0
He is wonderful to watch in his position as a traditional number 10. He created loads of chances for his teammates and Robinho will be blaming himself, and deservedly so, for hitting the ball over the bar in the 6 yard box after the African star cleverly passed the ball to him. His low drive into Valdes' near post was beautiful to watch after beating Abidal with a brilliant display of skill.
It is very easy to look at the talents of players like Messi, Thiago, Zlatan or Bauteng in this game or flops like Robinho and Villa and critically analyze them, but one could also look at the Intelligence and teamwork of Barcelona which is exactly what won this game. So how does all this affect Robinho and Villa? Milan fans might still be bitter and angry at Robinho for missing that chance, but we Cules can easily forgive and forget about Villa's performance, which was equally as awful if not worse, because in the end his teammates covered for him.
I hope that Pep does everything he can to bring everyone up to speed for the tie against Madrid, select best lineup and choose the best formation for the day. We can't afford to lose the bragging rights to their fans, not now and not ever.