Barcelona lost 2-0 to AC Milan at the San Siro Wednesday in the away leg of the last-16 round of the Champions League. The Blaugrana enjoyed 68 percent of possession and attempted seven shots, but only one was actually on target.
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As you would expect, anticipation was huge before kickoff. Many Cules drove the 980 kilometres to Italy in hopes of witnessing the Catalans continue the impressive nine-year unbeaten run against the most successful Italian team in the competition's history. While admirable, their support was drowned by the constant chanting of the 80,000 Rossoneri who were determined to make the San Siro a footballing fortress.
This classic European Cup clash was, as expected, a battle between different football styles, two ways to challenge for a positive result in their fight to advance.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona tried to impose their pass-and-move style from start to finish and witnessed how AC Milan focused on parking the bus, then building lightning-fast counterattacks when given the slimmest opportunity. While I wouldn't like to see my team opting for such a defensive approach, I do understand the Rossoneri played to their strengths very well, shown in their favourable final result.
Of course, many Blaugrana supporters are arguing that the first Milan goal came as a result of a clear handball, which almost a half-dozen Barcelona players instantly claimed. Unfortunately, referee William Collum didn't concur and validated the goal, leaving the Blaugranas in a difficult position from which they ultimately found impossible to escape.
Whatever excuses Cules may try to come up with, the hurtful truth is that Barcelona simply did not do enough to deserve the win and were unable to convincingly respond to the first Rossoneri goal.
Despite having plenty of possession before and after that crucial point, the Blaugrana game lacked ideas and mostly flowed at a sluggish pace, just not quickly enough to create clear spaces. In contrast, the Italians always seemed to have that extra gear, showed that added degree of desire, ran that little bit faster to tighten up spaces or win loose balls.
If the Catalans are to reach the next round, they must react by ensuring the ball is played at a much faster, efficient pace in the return game so chances are created more regularly. Having only one shot on goal after 90 minutes is simply unacceptable but, having said that, a team with players the calibre of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez deserve the fans' trust.
Jordi Roura and Tito Vilanova must now calmly go back to the drawing board, analyse what went wrong, find solutions and hope that the combination of these improvements and the support of the Camp Nou faithful can carry them through the next round by forcing Milan out of their comfort zone. Sure, this was a bad result after a poor match but, if there is a group of players who can turn this situation around, it's this Barcelona squad.
The journey towards lifting the club's fifth Champions League trophy in Wembley at the end of May has now become much more difficult -- Barcelona will have to fight incredibly hard to keep Cules' dreams alive against Milan at the Camp Nou March 12.
Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)
Victor Valdes (5) – While he couldn't do much to save either one of the goals, the fact Milan scored twice on three shots is disappointing.
Dani Alves (5) – One of the most willing Blaugrana attackers, but repeatedly caught out of position by Stephan El Shaarawy as a result.
Carles Puyol (5) – While you can't deny his spirit, experience or positioning, the eternal captain was largely beaten by the fresher, faster Rossoneri forwards.
Gerard Pique (6) – Once again, the most effective Blaugrana defender. Having said that, he could have pressed a little tighter at times, especially before the second goal.
Jordi Alba (5) – Joined attacking positions as usual, but lacked the fluidity and confidence he has demonstrated throughout the season.
Sergio Busquets (5) – Would be disappointed that his 91 completed passes and 96 percent pass-success record, while impressive at an individual level, didn't convert into a win. Not always able to protect the Blaugrana back-line well enough when dispossessed.
Xavi Hernandez (5) – Started after recovering from his minor hamstring injury but, perhaps as a direct result of a lack of proper training, didn't seem as mentally fresh as this game required.
Cesc Fabregas (4) – As most midfielders around him, failed to find a decent opening in the Milan back-line. His horizontal combinations were largely ineffective, never really putting Phillipe Mexes and Co. into any real trouble.
Lionel Messi (5) – Always eager to combine with others by dropping deep into midfield. But the great teamwork by the Rossoneri defence ensured the little Argentine was never alone, facing an army of defenders whenever he actually managed to get any decent possession. Even his runs from the wings - instead of his usual, more centred position - were stopped.
Pedro Rodriguez (4) – Unable to beat his markers and bring any real goalscoring threat from the right wing. Combined fairly well with Dani Alves but their efforts were stopped by the well-organised Italian lines.
Andres Iniesta (6) – Man of the Match - The most incisive Barcelona player, as has been the case many times this season. His classy touch and accurate passing didn't create any clear danger, but his constancy and determination to make things happen made him stand out from the rest.
Substitutes: Alexis Sanchez (3), Javier Mascherano (6)
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