AC Milan v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Game in a sentence

Max Allegri wisely ignores the advice from his incompetent albatross of a boss, devising an excellent game plan that sees Milan take a two goal lead into Camp Nou.

Observations

  • Well that was something.  Portsmouth Milan defeats Barcelona at the San Siro, setting up what should be an incredible second leg. Goals from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari were the difference. Allegri received a massive performance from Montolivo and Ambrosini.
  • Just to put this result into perspective: Barcelona hadn’t lost a match to Milan in nine years. Only five players in the Milan starting XI remained from last year’s 3-1 loss to the Spanish super giants.  The Rossoneri’s lineup had 286 matches of Champions League experience under their belt. The Barcelona trio of Valdes, Xavi and Fabregas had 287 on their own. 
  • Stephan El Shaarawy was immense. The Little Pharoh ran Dani Alves ragged, tracking back to ensure Milan’s defense wouldn’t be exposed on the counter. He coupled his strong defensive play with a handful of excellent offensive opportunities and a ridiculous assist on the second goal.
  • Philipe Mexes and Cristian Zapata made Barcelona’s formidable attack look feckless, blocking passing lanes, getting in front of shooting opportunities and rendering Leo Messi a non-factor.
  • But the most impressive Milan player on this monumental day–you really could not go wrong choosing anyone, it was truly a team effort– was Kevin-Prince Boateng. His goal in the 56th minute broke the deadlock and ushered in a wave of Rossoneri dominance on the ball.
  • The goal didn’t come without controversy. Alves, visibly frustrated, fouled SES from behind. Montolivo’s shot deflected off of a Barcelona player into the arm of Zapata, who had no time to get of the way. The ball then came down to Boateng, who made no mistake on the finish. That wasn’t an obvious handball call to me. I can also see how the referee would’ve missed it. We’re talking milliseconds here.
  • Barcelona’s New Kids On The Block inspired kits ushered in a new wave of terrible joke making, the likes of which we may never see again. Saved by the Bell, Bam Bam Bigelow (I liked that one) and Tequilla Sunrise was just a sampling of the comedy found on twitter. We can do better folks.
  • It was tough recalling another game that saw the Blaugrana provide such a listless attacking display. Messi is clearly over the hill, Xavi sucks and Iniesta’s play is an affront to football.
  •  Jokes aside, this was enthralling to watch. After a quiet first half, Giampolo Pazzini was fantastic for thirty minutes. Challenging Puyol in the air, tackling Messi in the midfield — he was everywhere. His replacement wouldn’t need as much time to make an impact.
  • M’Baye Niang is quickly becoming one of my favourite players to watch. The 19 year old replaced Pazzini in the 75th minute and wasted no time in tormenting the Barcelona defense.
  • Sulley Muntari’s goal in the 81st minute was the product of three superb plays from Milan’s core of young stars. Boateng dropped an excellent ball onto Niang, who warded of Puyol before finding SES at the top of the box. The Italian-Egpytian wonderkid’s chip–no words, watch on repeat– found Muntari streaking down the left. Muntari made it 2-0 with a class finish.
  • The crowd at the San Siro was terrific. 75,000 strong, the home field advantage cliché rang true.
  • Leaving Italy without conceding a goal is huge. With five minutes of extra time it did get dicey at times, but Milan escaped.
  • This tie is a long way from being over, obviously. Anyone who doubts Barcelona can put up a four spot at home is someone I’d rather not humor with conversation. That said, Allegri’s game plan and team selection today was a masterstroke. How Jordi Roura and his staff responds will be a talking point that will eventually devolve into crisis porn as we get closer to March 5th. Can’t wait.

Three stars

1. Kevin-Prince Boateng

2. Stephan El Shaarawy

3. Riccardo Montolivo