A late header from Thiago Silva ensured that AC Milan took home a share of the spoils in the opening game of their Champions League campaign. Milan went ahead through Alexandre Pato, before goals from Pedro and David Villa put FC Barcelona ahead. All seemed destined for a Barca win before Silva popped up with the equaliser in injury time.
THE CHAMPIONS! Mere seconds after the anthem had finished, we saw the first goal of the UEFA Champions League. Unfortunately, it was scored by AC Milan.
Right from the kick-off, a pass to Alexandre Pato set Milan off. Pato turned on the after-burners and Barcelona’s makeshift defense (still without Carles Puyol) could not cope. Both Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano thought the other was going to tackle, when in reality, neither did. Pato was through on goal, and he slotted home with ease.
Letting a world-class player have an easy chance is not the wisest decision.
However, Barcelona did not let their heads drop. Sure, the defense was a little shaky, but the possession game was still fully-functioning. First Barcelona chance came on 12 minutes, and no surprises, it was Lionel Messi.
La Pulga tested Abbiati from 20 yards, and six minutes later, he rattled the woodwork with a swerving free-kick. But wherever he went, and whatever passes he tried to play, Milan were coping well. Alessandro Nesta was using his experience to great effect, and Clarence Seedorf showed that he is still a top class player.
Though even that could not stop Lionel Messi.
Picking the ball up just outside the Milan area, he took the ball past Nesta, and then knocked it round Abate, displaying fantastic acceleration before squaring it to Pedro for a simple tap-in. Sure, Abate could have been stronger, but Messi is Messi, and at times, he is unplayable.
FC Barceona were in control, but they needed to make it count on the scoreboard. So, an injury to Andres Iniesta could not have come at a worse time. With Sanchez on the sideline for the foreseeable future, the last thing any cule wants is to see Iniesta pull up with a suspected hamstring injury, especially after he had beaten a Rossineri defender.
Xavi went close on the stroke of half-time, but the score remained level going into the break.
Guardiola could not have been completely happy with that first half performance, and whatever he said at the interval had a clear effect. Xavi let fly with a 30 yard pile-driver, but Abbiati was equal to it. While a lot of credit will go to Nesta, and rightly so, Abbiati was simply brilliant here tonight.
However well he was playing, no keeper could have saved the next attempt. A free-kick was awarded to Barcelona, around 25 yards out, and there was a wealth of options. Was it to be Lionel Messi? Xavi perhaps?
Step forward David Villa! Abbiati had no chance, as Villa curled it straight into the top corner, it was perfectly executed by El Guaje, and could have been the winning goal.
Barcelona piled forward in search of the elusive third goal, they needed to put the game out of reach, but time and time again, the well-drilled zonal marking Italians repelled the attacks. In one attack, Messi cut inside three defenders, hesitated in taking the shot, and Alessandro Nesta dived in, taking the ball away at the last possible second. A goal-saving; perhaps game-saving tackle.
Carles Puyol was brought on for the last 20 minutes, and looked astute in possession, and his leadership skills have certainly not diminished, though again, Barcelona displayed a lack of concentration, and dare I say it: improper tactics.
It is the 91st minute, and Milan have a corner. Thiago Silva comes forward. You put Carles Puyol on him, or at least you should, but decide Busquets is good enough. Result? Busquets is outmuscled, and Silva powers home the equaliser.
It is easy to feel robbed, but the bottom line is, Milan just did their job. Busquets is tall, and can head the ball, but lacks the passion. To liken football to basketball, there is one saying I never forget regarding rebounding. It doesn’t matter how tall you are, it’s about the passion.
Puyol has the passion, the drive, the determination to get the ball, so win headers, despite his height or lack thereof. Busquets is tall, but does not have the drive, and Silva did. Kudos to him, it was fine header, but why is it that Barcelona keep on slipping up in such trivial situations?
No doubt Guardiola will say that the team learn from their mistakes, but the last 5 years have taught me this: Barcelona always suffer from lapses of concentration. Clearly this is one lesson you cannot learn, but must be taught by your coach. All is not lost, but Guardiola has some key lessons to teach in the coming days and weeks.
My pick for Man of the Match is Lionel Messi, who was in imperious form tonight, and if not for Nesta, would have gone home with the match ball and a hat-trick. So, really Nesta gets the credit!
Onto Saturday, and Osasuna are the next opponents.
Visca el Barca!
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