El Centrocampista

Fine margins: Barcelona held by defiant Milan

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OLIVIER MORIN – AFP


The video screens at the San Siro set the mood perfectly for tonight’s Champions League tie between Barcelona and AC Milan. Half an hour before a ball had even been kicked, highlights of Milan’s humiliation over Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final echoed through the arena. Pep Guardiola played in that game, and for a man as fiercely competitive as the Barcelona coach, it must have been an unwelcome reminder of one of his few past failings.

To call tonight’s draw a failing for Barcelona is perhaps a touch harsh, but none the less, not scoring an away goal against a Milan side that has attacking firepower aplenty gives the Italians the onus to come to the Camp Nou and get the job done. Of course, teams of great stature have failed to ‘get the job done’ on Barcelona home soil in the past, but then, even the greatest of sides struggle to match the European pedigree of AC Milan.

In a match with so many stars on show there was little to take your breath away. A poor looking pitch was at fault in part, but the lack of a spectacle was also down to Milan’s simple, yet ultimately effective tactic. High pressure in the first half, followed by a gradual reduction of intensity focusing on defending deep and defending well. Then, when the ball fell to a Milan player (more often than not Clarence Seedorf), play the ball up to Ibrahimovic, and hope something happens as a result.

The long-ball game is often derided – and usually I agree, but on the rare occasion that it does work it can be the most frustrating yet effective of tactics, at the mercy of both the observer and those on the receiving end.

The Catalan press tomorrow will no doubt focus on a clear penalty denied to Alexis Sanchez (about a yard in front of the goal-line official no less), but in truth, had Barcelona got the job done on the night there would be no need to focus on what if moments. Barcelona are far too great a side to place importance on these kind of incidents as an excuse.

Looking forward, Milan know exactly what to expect from Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The home side will throw absolutely everything at their disposal towards the Italians, and should the visitors wish to emerge victorious, they will need to weather  a storm double the size of that in the San Siro.

For Barcelona, the most worrying thing it’s impossible to second guess just exactly how Milan will set out in the Camp Nou. Should the Rossoneri throw caution to the wind, they have players more than capable of giving the Catalans a scare. Analysts would be foolish to assume that Milan don’t have the confidence to come to the Camp Nou and attack.

Equally, they may opt for the risky, but in the past against Barcelona, occasionally effective, tactic of keeping things tight then upping the tempo when Barcelona lack numbers. Inter Milan are proof that with a bit of luck, this can work, though admittedly, the Rossoneri’s housemates faced a far lesser Barcelona side than the one Milan take on in April.

In any case, Pep Guardiola is a man who doesn’t like such uncertainty. After all, this is a guy who claims his team need to keep the ball because it prevents the unpredictable, at the hands of which Barcelona suffer. It might seem ridiculous when considering Barcelona’s record at home, but for me, the ball is now in Milan’s court.

Thankfully, the one thing that is certain is that we’ll finally see a goal. Or several.

 




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