Everyone knows the best player in the world is also pretty diminutive. Everyone also knows that second best player in the world is an absolute specimen of human and a bit taller. The great part about this information is that soccer has no definitions of height specifically of linked to world-class footballers. That’s why anyone can play and anyone can be successful. So I pitch this out to you… which team would you choose if you had to take only players over six feet tall or only those under 5′ 8?” The decision would be tough but I can tell you this, I would pay an incredible sum of money to watch this game go down.
So many words can be used to describe the performance Barcelona put together yesterday versus Italian giants AC Milan.
Barcelona gave Milan no chance. The high line and relentless pressure was too much for a Milan side that lacked any real potency on the counter and looked scared for most of the game. The first line was so sprawling and important for Barcelona, Milan had trouble getting out of their own half. Two goals from an incredible Lionel Messi and a two-nil lead going into halftime. It could have been more, had a blatant penalty been given early on when Pedro was obviously dropped by a beaten Abate or if Messi found the back of the net with his header after a wondrous volley from Iniesta. Still, Messi found the back of the net just how the best player in the world should in the biggest games. A clean first touch set him up for a half-volley that found the top corner to put the Catalans up 2-0 within five minutes of kick-off, an absolute dream start for Barca.
The way Barcelona kept the ball for the 30 minutes of the game must have put their own centerbacks to sleep. The only time they had to be involved was either after a clearance from Milan found their feet or there was a set piece for Barcelona. Barcelona was dynamic. Victor Valdes could have pulled out a lounge chair for much of the game. The central combination play from Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets, Messi and Villa combined with the width Dani Alves found on the right was a ridiculous force that Milan had no answers for. Milan tried to “park the bus,” and just sit in and counter-attack when possible. The buildup to Barca’s attacking play was smart and taken with much more urgency than in the first leg of this matchup. Barcelona made it look easy to penetrate a ten man wall behind the ball and made it impossible for Milan to find a way out if they ever won the ball back. Yet, might the post have saved Barcelona’s Champion’s League chances? What a break it was when Milan found a way out and the breakaway was saved by the post.
What happened next? Milan tried to bruise Messi, they had three men around him whenever he saw the mall, they hit and viciously attacked him. He might have been fouled ten times in this game. Still he conquered. When Messi scored for a second time, just before half-time, you knew the game was over.
You knew that Barcelona were finding a way through, that Milan did not have any answers. They already looked devastated. They looked drained. The focus necessary to maintain the organization they needed to combat Barcelona’s flowing movement is massive. It took a toll and you could tell that as the game went on they were worn down little by little. I don’t even think Maldini could have helped Milan thwart this Barcelona attack. Barca took the 2-0 lead into halftime. Still, a goal from Milan changes it all and would force Barcelona to score two more goals to find their way through.
The second half started well. In the first half, I don’t remember David Villa’s name being mentioned. Xavi played an intricate ball into the path of Villa and his composure took over from there as he smartly finished in the bottom left corner. Let the euphoria begin. Let Milan begin to open up and chase the game. Let Barcelona control the game even more. Let’s call on Sergio Busquets to run the game. Barcelona’s pressure never dropped and the incredible amount of possession remained, largely due to Busquets presence as a link between the back four and the front five and his willingness to play one/two-touch football. Changes were made when the once illustrious Robinho came on, but to no avail.
Milan did enjoy spells of pressure and some shocking defending from Barcelona did lead to a few chances but none found the net. Barcelona remained a constant whirlwind of passing and movement. The Catalans wrote the script on why they call it the “beautiful” game and they did not let us down. Still, Milan found some joy in the final ten minutes, largely thanks to some awful defending from World XI centerback Gerard Pique (there is no sarcasm there). He was not good on the day and should be eternally grateful for a brilliant tackle from Jordi Alba which saved the day. I guess left backs who cover you well and having Shakira as a wife is enough to get you in the world team. Insert obligatory picture of her here:
I have never seen more players behind the ball for Barcelona than in the last ten minutes. Still, they found a way to grab and fourth and decisive goal that shut the door on any Milan hope. “Let’s keep it in the corner,” said Puyol. “No, let’s get a fourth,” said Jordi Alba and company. And there it is, Barcelona is through. The Nou Camp’s electricity is ignited and Barcelona will be winning the Champion’s League this year. What a performance it was!
Not for nothing, a little while ago in my post “Is it Time to Fear Galatasaray and Porto?” I predicted Galatasaray would get through and they did, albeit tougher than I thought it would be. Still, they pose a threat to anyone (besides Barcelona) in the next round. My expectations remain high for Porto moving through after today’s match. My expectations are not as high for Arsenal, who were dealt a huge blow when Mr. Wilshere was ruled out for the rest of the month.
They were already struggling in the midfield and this just solidifies Bayern Munich’s hold on that tie. Munich will be through. The next round will bring some giant match-ups for us to enjoy.