Barcelona 2-2 Milan: Defensive display proves enough to out-smart lax Catalans

Champions League Matchday 1
Tuesday September 13, 2011 (19.45 UK)
Camp Nou, Barcelona
Pedro 36, Villa 50 – Pato 1, Thiago Silva 92

Barcelona dominated their opening Champions League game at the Camp Nou but could only come away with a point against Milan.

The European Cup holders came back from falling behind after 25 seconds to dominate possession, but a strong Milan defence protected their goal well and it was central defender Thiago Silva who spoiled the Blaugrana’s night with a strong header in the last minute to earn his side a point.

Milan showed that they were going to make this a difficult affair for the home side as they kept possession from the kick-off and Alexandre Pato drove in between Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets with ease to go one-on-one with Victor Valdes and slotted past the keeper to give the visitors the lead.

Barcelona dominated play straight after the goal as Milan sat around their own box and allowed the Blaugrana to come at them. But the home side struggled to turn their possession into goals and considering the amount of time they spent around the Milan danger zone, they even struggled to put pressure on Christian Abbiati.

Dani Alves was afforded plenty of time and space on the right-wing by Gianluca Zambrotta but the Brazilian had a tendency to cut inside rather than drive down to the by-line and send the ball into the box. This limited his and Barcelona’s options as the Rossoneri defence remained tight, so he was effectively running straight into blocked-off areas.

The Spanish champions appeared to lack pace going forward. When they cut down a Milan attack they did not break with speed and allowed il Diavolo to maintain the pressure on them. the lack of pace to Barca’s play was as evident in their makeshift defence, with Busquets on more than one occasion seen to be taking risks on the ball when put under pressure.

When in possession in the final third Barcelona struggled to breach the Italian side’s defence, even with their intricate passes and intelligent runs in between defenders, as Silva and Alessandro Nesta were rock solid in the heart of defence. The centre-backs remained tight, refused to allow anybody sporting a red & blue jersey to slip in behind or between them and they were regularly there to clear away any danger with ease.

Creating a tight triangle with defensive midfielder Mark van Bommel, they were generally successful in crowding out Lionel Messi from his false No 9 role. However, the Argentine’s persistence eventuall paid off when he eventually caught Nesta out of position to slip through to create the opening goal.

It was then a piece of individual brilliance from David Villa on the free-kick that gave Barcelona the lead and from there the game appeared to have been killed off. Pep Guardiola’s side maintained possession as they looked to extend their lead but for Milan’s stout defending, but in light of failing to find a third goal, were punished at the death with the Italians’ equaliser.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Dani Alves, Mascherano, Busquets, Abidal; Iniesta (Fabregas 38), Xavi, Keita (Puyol 67); Villa (Afellay 84), Messi, Pedro
Unused subs: Pinto, Adriano, Maxwell, Thiago

Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Zambrotta; Seedorf, Nocerino, Van Bommel (Aquilani 77); Boateng (Ambrosini 33); Cassano (Emanuelson 61), Pato
Unused subs: Amelia, Bonera, Antonini, Yepes

Did you know…Barcelona and Milan together account for five of the last nine Champions League winners, three for La Blaugrana, and two for the Rossoneri.

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