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UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona 4-0 AC Milan: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's epic comeback win over AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League

David Ramos

FC Barcelona produced a comeback for the ages to progress to UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the sixth successive season, over-turning a first-leg deficit to triumph 4-0 on the night, and 4-2 on aggregate. Lionel Messi got the ball rolling on five minutes with a well-taken shot from the edge of the area and the Argentine doubled his tally on 39 minutes, drilling the ball past Abbiati to level the tie at 2-2. David Villa gave the Blaugrana an aggregate lead on 55 minutes with a clinical left-footed finish, assisted by a wonderful through ball by Xavi before Jordi Alba sealed the result with a breakaway goal in injury-time. So much for a "crisis" eh?






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Barcelona surprised many with their team selection; there was no place for Carles Puyol in the starting XI, Thiago couldn’t even earn his spot on the bench while Xavi was immediately restored to midfield after injury. 4-3-3? 3-4-3? For all the talk of tactics, for all the talk of personnel ultimately only one thing would matter: could Barcelona get a result?

The Blaugrana started brightly and the pressure the characterised Guardiola’s reign was evident right from the start. The hunger; the desire; the sheer determination to not only stop the opposition but to completely overwhelm them; it was all flooding back, and within five minutes the historic comeback was on. And who else would lead the charge but Lionel Messi?

It was a lovely team move too; from Iniesta to Pedro; from Pedro to Busquets and on to Messi, all in the blink of an eye, and Barça weren’t done yet. Messi still had work to do and smartly helped the ball back inside to Xavi, which created just enough space for a return pass and – after taking a touch to set himself – Messi promptly curled the ball into the top-corner of Abbiati’s net to hand Barcelona a deserved lead.

AC Milan were shell-shocked. They knew it was going to be tough, especially at the Camp Nou with over 90,000 Culés cheering their heroes towards victory, but even so, this was an unexpected set-back. Following the summer’s fire-sale, this was a Milan squad lacking in experience and lacking in star power – could they weather the onslaught?

Ignazio Abate could count himself slightly fortunate to get away with a clumsy challenge with Pedro that could and perhaps should have resulted in a penalty kick, before the woodwork (and Abbiati) came to the rescue, as Andrés Iniesta rattled the crossbar with a well-struck shot from the edge of the Milan area and surprisingly Lionel Messi couldn’t direct the rebound into the back of the net, albeit from a difficult angle. Xavi was the next to try his luck from distance, forcing another good save from Christian Abbiati with a venomous right-footed effort from the best part of 20 yards on 17 minutes.

The Rossoneri were hanging in there, but it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Barça completed the turn-around, such was their dominance in every single aspect of the game. However, with the score at 1-0, Milan were still heading through, and a goal for the visitors would have almost certainly consigned the Blaugrana to an aggregate defeat. With an explosive front-three, Milan were always going to threaten on the counter-attack and thanks to an error from Javier Mascherano, M’baye Niang was clean-through on goal with a chance to book his side’s place in the quarter-finals. One-on-one with Victor Valdés, I certainly feared the worst, but the situation got the better of the young Frenchman, and Niang could only watch as his shot rebounded off the post and away from danger – a sign that luck was on our side perhaps?

As if Niang’s chance wasn’t enough proof, Barcelona sprung away on the counter as Andrés Iniesta took advantage of a poor touch from Massimo Ambrosini to regain possession in the Milan half. Iniesta could have ventured forward himself in search of a shot on goal, but he went for the smart option – finding Lionel Messi, who took the ball inside Philippe Mexes and rifled a shot through the defender’s legs to find the back of the net. With the first half in the books, Barça were already level on aggregate.

Neither manager made a change at the break: of course, from a Barcelona perspective, there was no need for a change. The plan was working to perfection, and tinkering with that plan probably would have done more harm than good, but it was slightly surprising that Milan came out unchanged. After all, if the first half demonstrated anything it was that Allegri’s XI just couldn’t contain the Blaugrana and if left unchanged, it was just a matter of time before Barcelona seized control of the tie.

Once again, Lionel Messi registered the period’s first shot on target although Abbiati stopped this one relatively easily as Messi’s shot lacked any real power. However, he was left with no chance on 55 minutes as David Villa handed Barcelona an aggregate lead. Played through by Xavi’s sublime through ball, Villa only had the keeper to beat, and he duly dispatched the chance in clinical fashion. With a little over half-an-hour left to play, FC Barcelona were heading through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.

Now Milan needed a goal to progress and Allegri responded with a double change as scorer of the all-important second goal in the first-leg, Sulley Ali Muntari replaced Massimo Ambrosini while Robinho took M’Baye Niang’s place in attack. Now the Rossoneri were surging forward in search of an away goal and what has been a typically shaky Barcelona defense was under pressure. Thankfully, they weren’t about to throw away this lead. Barcelona made changes of their own. David Villa was taken off for Alexis Sánchez, Mascherano made way for Carles Puyol and Adriano came on for Pedro as Barcelona looked to see out the final few minutes and complete an epic comeback. For a few moments, it was a nerve-wracking affair.

In a complete role reversal, it was Barcelona who were defending in numbers, and as Milan committed more and more players forward they left themselves open for a counter-attack and Barça took full advantage as Jordi Alba sealed the win with a break-away goal in injury-time after a brilliant assist from Alexis Sánchez. Against all the odds, Barcelona were through the last eight.

Next up, Barcelona host Rayo Vallecano in La Liga action, but until then, savour this victory and of course, Visca el Barça!

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