If you couldn't sleep last night from loud revilers in the streets around your domestic domicile, it was probably the hordes of Barcelona haters out celebrating AC Milan's 2-0 Champions League victory over the Blaugrana yesterday. Don't be too upset with them, they so rarely get a chance to find joy in Barcelona's misfortune that we have to forgive them their trespasses for one evening.
If you didn't watch the match itself you might be wondering just what in the heck happened at the San Siro. It's a fair question and one that I've been rolling around in my head since the match ended. I'm still not exactly sure what I witnessed but I know it was important for a few reasons.
Let's start with Milan's performance because they deserve plenty of credit for pulling off that shocking result. I also want to ensure that no one starts writing snarky comments about how I'm ignoring Milan and making excuses for Barcelona. The Blaugrana don't need anyone making excuses for their performance, especially me. They know they sucked but we'll get to that in a minute.
Milan were nothing short of outstanding. Every team enters a match with a plan and most teams have a similar plan when entering a match against Barcelona. You're never going to be able to out possession Barca so you have to somehow find a way to defend their pressure and prevent them from picking you apart like a skilled surgeon wielding a scalpel. Rarely can a stop that but for the second season in a row we've witnessed Barca be shutdown by an opponent in the Champions League. Chelsea did it last year on their way to winning the tournament and Milan did it yesterday.
It's not rocket science but it's hard to do, which makes Milan's victory that much more impressive. It was a coming out party of sorts for this re-worked MIlan team and a shot across the bow of their Italian foes that things are starting to turn around for the Rossoneri.
So what did they do that was so special?
They defended well, never getting out of position and preventing Barca from getting any space to exploit. Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng completely took Dani Alves and Jordi Alba out of the game, not allowing the two fullbacks to get nearly as involved in the attack as we're used to seeing. It took away Barcelona's width and make it much easier for Milan to contain then with Barca's attack being forced centrally.
Now, it is important to note that as good as Milan were, Barcelona were equally, if not more awful. I'll even venture to say that Barca's failures had far more to do with their own play than anything Milan did. Yell at me for making excuses if you like but it's the truth.
It was a truly shocking performance from Barca, one of the worst I have ever seen from this team since the beginning of the Pep Guardiola reign with the team. They did next to nothing right. They couldn't pass, they couldn't shoot, they didn't dribble well, they looked confused and completely out of ideas. Even in the loss against Chelsea last year Barca were at least creating pressure. There was no pressure from Barcelona on Milan with the exception of a couple quick burst.
Andres Iniesta played easily one of the worst game of his career. Lionel Messi was invisible. Alexis Sanchez was a train wreck. Did Pedro even touch the ball? It was a truly horrid display.
Barca managed only seven attempts on goal of which only one was even on target. ONE SHOT ON TARGET!
Even worse was the passing and creative play which was basically non-existent. Where were the runs, the magical through balls, the ridiculous tiki-taka interplay between Iniesta, Xavi and Messi? What about Cesc Fàbregas? It really seemed like he forgot everything he's learned since returning to Barca and reverted to the player he was at Arsenal. That's not to say he was bad with the Gunners but that's not the game Barca need him playing.
As great as Milan played Barcelona lost this tie because they didn't play their game. Milan's defending was solid but how much work did they really have to do? Go back and watch the game and you'll see that Barcelona never really attacked them with the style and vigor we're used to seeing. They played right into MIlan's hands by looking pedestrian. It should be crystal clear to Barca why they lost because they weren't themselves last night and I'm sure the players are aware of it.
Now Barcelona have a ton of work to do at the Camp Nou. There's no question they're capable over overcoming a two goal deficit but can they prevent Milan from scoring? You know the Italians are going to try and do the same thing in three weeks and all they really need is one away goa to really cause some chaos.
The second leg will be must see TV if for no other reason than to find out if Milan can repeat their performance or if Barca can find their magic again. It's not over by any strech of the imagination but Barca are certainly not where anyone thought they would be.