It's fair to say that even the most ardent AC Milan supporter knew there was a real possibility that Barcelona would comeback on the rossoneri today at the Camp Nou. What they didn't likely expect was for Milan to apparently abandon the tactics that earned them a 2-0 lead after the first leg.
We gave Massimiliano Allegri and his players a large amount of credit for their first leg victory and it was deserved. Milan's formation was perfect, the player's positioning was spot-on and they exploited Barca's weaknesses like a well oiled machine. While replicating that performance would have been near impossible, you still had to think that Milan would at least try the same approach in the second leg.
It may have looked similar in terms of how Allegri deployed his players on Tuesday night but there were two key differences.
First Milan played much deeper from the opening kickoff, allowing Barcelona to not only sit in possession, but do it without the steady pressure we saw three weeks ago. We didn't see Milan's players holding their lines and putting tough but smart pressure on Barcelona's midfielders. Instead Milan sat back and let Barca pass the ball around while moving forward. There was no wall of resistance like we witnessed in the first leg.
The second difference, and in my eyes, the more important difference was Milan's overly aggressive play.
At the San Siro we didn't see Milan players trying to intercept every ball by jumping recklessly into the passing lanes. Rather they cut off Barca's intricate passing by playing a rigid formation that eliminated pockets of space for the likes Messi to exploit. On Tuesday Milan were jumping around and leaving openings all over the place.
The first Barcelona goal is an excellent example of this behavior.
In the first leg if Xavi had possession outside the penalty area, there wouldn't have been that giant bubble for Messi to play into. Messi would have tried but there would have been a defender there or at least one stepping up into the space. Today, not only was Messi allowed to float 20-yards away from goal, he was allowed to receive the pass and shoot without anyone closing him down.
At least three Milan players were within range of being able to step in and clog up the space around Messi, but nobody moved. Sure Messi's shot was brilliant and required the level of skill we're used to seeing from the Argentine striker, but he never would have had that kind of room to operate in the first leg.
Messi's second goal was very similar though the setup was different. Milan's sloppy play in the midfield allowed Andres Iniesta to gain possession and catch the rossoneri completely out of position. Again Messi was allowed space 20-yards from goal and he went right around a defender. Part of what made Milan so successful in the first leg was their lack of mistakes and the fact they made the right decisions on the ball.
That simply wasn't the case on Tuesday.
Milan also didn't waste their counter attack chances at the San Siro but they certainly did on Tuesday, blowing several excellent chances to score a crucial away goal. Stephan El Shaarawy wasn't good and M'Baye Niang wasted a fantastic opportunity, putting the ball off the post. That happens in soccer and sometimes the shots just don't go your way, but on the biggest stage in European club competition, you have to be lethal.
Barcelona looked better on the attack and were able to effectively move the ball around on Tuesday but that doesn't change the fact that all the glaring defensive issues we've seen over the past couple weeks remain.
Javier Mascherano made a major error that nearly led to Niang's goal. Carles Puyol was awful after entering the match late, making several of the positional and mental decisions similar to those that cost Barcelona dearly in the first leg. Milan were able to exploit them on the counter and pick apart Barca's defense, they just didn't finish their chances.
Barca should have some confidence back thanks to this result, but the core problems remain for Jordi Roura. Despite winning 4-0, they showed little to convince me that they will be able to stand to whatever challenge awaits them in the quarterfinals.
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