After ten games without a clean sheet, Barcelona finally paid for their dismal defensive record with a 2-0 defeat at the San Siro. A resolute Milan side kept the Catalans at bay for 90 minutes, barely allowing Lionel Messi and company a sniff at goal the entire game.
In the press conference before the Champions League last 16 match up, Barcelona coach Jordi Roura addressed the team’s defensive issues. “We still normally score more goals than the opposition. But I do agree that we need to work on certain aspects and there is room for improvement in that respect.” His words proved to be portentous, as the team was outdone by its defensive frailties.
Though Barcelona had the lion’s share of possession, Milan constantly looked the more dangerous team, looking to break whenever the ball fell to their front three of Stephane El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Though the first goal was perhaps fortuitous due to an unseen handball, Boateng and Sulley Muntari both took their chances with aplomb, leaving the Barcelona team shell-shocked. Both times Milan players were left open in the opposing box, and Barca’s loose marking cost them both times. The home team’s efficiency in front of goal was of high contrast with Barcelona’s largely toothless display.
Barca, who have so often been able to overcome their habit of conceding goals, were held in check by a masterful Milan defence. Diligent and organised, their performance limited Barcelona chances to long distance efforts or hopeful crosses into the penalty area. Interplay close to the Milan goal was nearly impossible due to the compact nature of Milan’s defence and midfield.
Lionel Messi was largely nullified, as Milan congested the middle of the defence and forced the Argentine deep or out to the left flank in order to get the ball at his feet. When he did obtain possession, three or four Milan defenders were always quick to pressure the little man, forcing him to release the ball quickly.
Unable to conjure a head of steam to ignite one of his notorious slaloming runs in the attacking third, Messi was more often amongst Xavi and Andres Iniesta than in his typical false-nine position further up the field. With Cesc Fabregas also dropping in to help the midfield, this left Barelona with Pedro as the only true winger, and a distinct lack of direct options up top.
Barcelona have been conceding goals all season, however they have largely made up for it with their offensive brilliance. If they hope to move on to the Champions League quarter-finals, the key will be tightening up the defence.
Scoring two goals is not an unachievable task for the Blaugrana, especially at the fortress that is the Camp Nou, however conceding a goal at home will mean they will need four to go through due to the away goals rule. Though scoring will certainly be a necessity in three weeks time at the Camp Nou, keeping a clean sheet will be essential to continue their Champions League campaign.
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