AC Milan were fantastic on Wednesday night, pulling out a stellar 2-0 victory over Barcelona at the San Siro. They now head into the second leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie against the Blaugrana holding a significant advantage that few thought they'd be able to earn. I sat down with SB Nation Soccer lead editor Graham MacAree, contributing editor Ryan Rosenblatt and contributor Zito Madu to discuss what went wrong for Barca.
Graham MacAree: I'll get us started. Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas were crap. Messi had to drop deep to pick up the ball, which meant he wasn't dangerous. Their midfield got demolished by Massimo Ambrosini, Sulley Muntari and Riccardo Montolivo. And Barca got so bogged down there they couldn't put the ball behind the defence.
Zito Madu: Yeah, Iniesta never got going and the whole "man-mark" Lionel Messi thing actually kinda worked.
Graham: I swear, half of Barca's passes just bounced off defenders.
Ryan Rosenblatt: When was the last time Iniesta was as bad as he was today? I'm not sure he looked forward once.
Zito: Probably a few years ago when he was playing through injury.
Graham: Iniesta's late shot was nice, but until then he did approximately nothing useful and gave the ball away a frightening number of times. Milan played out of their minds, obviously, but Barca let them. They kept trying to play through channels that weren't there.
Zito: Stephan El Shaarawy tracking back to pick up Dani Alves was so crucial, too.
Graham: And Kevin-Prince Boateng on Jordi Alba.
Ryan: And let's keep in mind that Milan could have had another goal or two. Especially through SES, who was really bad going forward in the first half.
Zito: That bad touch in the first half almost gave me a stroke.
Kevin McCauley: El Shaarawy was brilliant tracking back, but I still wonder why Barcelona didn't attack the Milan left more. Kevin Constant was the obvious weak point of their team, no disrespect to him, and Barcelona didn't go at him.
Graham: Scared of SES, I'd bet. You don't want to push Alves up if SES is going to be able to break past him on the counter, and Alves is vital to them doing anything on that side.
Zito: Yeah, and he did it a few times in the first half and they stopped going over there.
Kevin: True. And SES was doing that in the first half. He was just screwing up attacks with bad touches and bad decisions.
Graham: Also ... did Pedro touch the ball, ever? I mean, Messi had a bad game, but what was he supposed to do? Pick up the ball in the centre circle, navigate the midfield and then blow past the centre backs? Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata attacked him as he was trying to get past Massimo Ambrosini.
Kevin: Stat alert: I know that passing stats out of context are stupid, but Barcelona had no completed through balls. Iniesta only attempted one. The team only attempted four. They had none that connected. That's kind of insane.
Graham: Yeah, they didn't actually try anything. Does anyone remember a single surprising Barcelona pass? There was no creativity.
Ryan: The confluence of events that led to this many Barcelona players being as bad as they were would make for a horrifying movie.
Zito: Allegri should just hold this scoreline up whenever people ask for him to be sacked.
Kevin: The closest they came to scoring was a speculative rip by Andres Iniesta in the, what, 75th minute?
Graham: Yeah. Puyol also had a free header on a corner.
Kevin: What was their one shot on target?
Graham: Xavi from 30 yards.
Graham: Christian Abbiati caught it. It wasn't a chance. There was just no threat ever, and despite that, they still had so many bodies upfield that they were vulnerable to the counter-attack. It was bizarre.
Kevin: So, as good as Milan were, Barcelona's failure to score was more down to them not even trying things than it was Milan defending perfectly.
Graham: Yeah, pretty much. I don't think Milan's defence played that well, because they didn't have to do anything.
Ryan: The most shocking part to me was their inability to take advantage of a Milan team that lost their heads for a bit after going 2-0 up. At that point, Milan became visibly jumpy and uncomfortable, but Barcelona didn't do anything. That's the most un-Barcelona thing ever.
Kevin: Yeah, that was nuts. That's usually when Barcelona pull one back. Milan holding a clean sheet for a while and nicking one on the counter wasn't shocking. Barcelona's failure to capitalize in the final five minutes + stoppage time was astonishing.
Graham: Not only did they not capitalize, they didn't even look like capitalizing.
Zito: Well, they kept the Barca players in front of them rather than letting them do those stupid runs behind the defense. Rather than making vital tackles and last ditch clearances, they stifled Barcelona and let them pass around.
Graham: Yeah, Zito, but there was barely a hint of a player even looking to make those runs. Milan played a deep line, but still, you still expect to see those scooped passes at the edge of the box which someone runs onto from nowhere. It's Barca.
Ryan: Did it ever look like Cesc Fabregas knew what he wanted to do? It didn't even look like he knew where he wanted to be on the pitch.
Kevin: No, Cesc was horrid.
Zito: You can still see Cesc reverting to his Arsenal "free-role" every few games.
Ryan: For Cesc to be not just bad, but a complete non-factor is astonishing. Even when he's not good he usually pops up in areas and causes problems for other teams just by being there. He was just MIA today.
Graham: 2-0 was broadly deserved, even with the refereeing nonsense, yes?*
*Editor's note: A handball went unspotted on the first goal of the game
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. The first goal shouldn't have counted, but based on the way play was going, I would have liked it to end 1-0 to Milan if handball was called. They were the better team without a doubt.
Ryan: Certainly deserved at 2-0. Even with the handball, they could have scored another goal or two.
Zito: I'm not biased, so yes.*
*Editor's note: Zito supports AC Milan.
Kevin: So, conclusions: Give me the biggest reason that Barcelona lost, and tell me whether or not you think they'll turn this around.
Zito: Lack of invention, and hopefully not. 2-1, Barcelona in the second leg.
Graham: Iniesta and Fabregas playing like Stoke midfielders meant that the entire creative burden was on Messi. He couldn't shoulder it. I agree with Zito's pick.
Ryan: I can't even pick something as the biggest reason for Barcelona. Some force in the universe conspired to make almost their entire team play horribly on the same day. Blame the spirit gods. Second leg result will be 2-0 to Barcelona with them going through in extra time.