Barcelona cruised into the UEFA Champions League knockout stages after a thrilling 3-1 win over Italian giants, AC Milan on Wednesday. Lionel Messi‘s brace and Busquets’ header proved vital for Tata Martino’s boys.
The match witnessed Messi ending his scoring drought in three games prior to the Group H clash. The Argentinian international scored the first goal from the penalty spot after Neymar had been brought down by Ignazio Abate.
Meanwhile, Barca defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets registered his second goal of the season as he headed home an in-swinging set piece from Xavi. Milan pulled one back before the half time as Kaka‘s cross resulted in Gerard Pique own goal. Messi scored his second goal of the match after a beautiful link-up play, following a clever one two with Fabregas before slotting the ball at the top of the net.
“I think we played a good first half and we suffered a bit in the second half but the victory leaves us in a very good position in the group.” said Busquets afterwards.
But how did the Catalans go about achieving their victory?
1.) Ball possession and pressing of the game
Tata Martino’s boys played exceptionally well and deserved the win by all means. The Catalans enjoyed a comfortable 59% possession and a 89% pass completion.
The key to their win was a balanced pressing as well as their style of giving their opponents less time to spend on the the ball. And without doubt, it worked wonders.
Busquets performance was simply a class above the others. The 25-year-old played a major role in breaking up the play between Montolivo and Balotelli and did a fine job in recycling the loose ball and feeding it to the final third.
However, Milan’s lucky moment came in, when Brazilian Kaka shook off Dani Alves and made an emphatic run into the box and crossed the ball which cam out as a Pique own goal.
It proved the lifeline for Milan as Kaka got the grip of the game for his positive play. Nevertheless, the Italians were not able to make a come back as the Catalans did not grant Allegri’s side to play their way out from defence and cut the play, which resulted in Milan struggling to get hold of the ball.
2.) The Neymar factor
Brazilian sensation, Neymar started in the left wing, with Adriano behind him. The 21-year old often pressurised the Milan defenders before linking up with Messi upfront and Iniesta in the middle third. The Brazilian was able to slip past Abate on most of the occasions and handled the ball with class and composure in one on one situations.
Neymar opened Barca’s very first attack after a dazzling run from the lad before receiving a return pass from Messi.
However, his first touch was poor and resulted in Christian Abbiati controlling the situation. In fact, the only reason Neymar was able to cut inside the box was because Abate was not able to handle the pace as well as the acceleration of the Brazilian and was often caught on the wrong side.
In the second half, Neymar got his golden chance to score his first Champion League goal as he cut inside the box and slipped past Abate, Zapata and Mexes before failing to pull the trigger past the Milan goalkeeper. It was only after Fabregas’s introduction that Neymar began to have a more positive influence on the game. Messi was able to drop deep and Neymar and Sanchez had the ability to cut inside the box.
3.) The Fabregas Decision
Tata Martino brought in Cesc Fabregas for Andres Iniesta in the 78th minute. The introduction of Cesc brought in the much needed spark and creativity Barcelona required to get one more goal to add to their tally.
His energetic midfield role, enables him to take on defenders and use his accurate passing skills to bring out the best from his illustrious team mates. He got his teammates,especially Sanchez more involved in the game. He played a vital role in bringing the full-back Adriano into play and get any sort of momentum going. His introduction yielded results and there was a greater influence to Barca’s attack after four time Ballon D’Or winner, Lionel Messi made a smart run down the middle made a slick one-two passing move with Cesc which dragged the Milan defenders out of position. Fabregas’s return pass to Messi was just perfect as Messi slipped past two defenders before slotting the ball to the back of the net.
It was battle of wits at the Camp Nou, and it was Tata Martino’s boys that emerged as the match winners. It was good lesson for Allegri to learn that their inconsistent form has let them down. Barcelona had 6 shots on target while A.C Milan had just two. It was just a question of how determined and focused they were.
After losing 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions League 2012/13 last 16, Barca coach Martino, has tactically outwitted Milan by all means. The Catalans have once again showed that are still one of the best elite teams in Europe. The 2-1 win over Real Madrid have inspired the Cules, physically and mentally to perform much more than their capability and give their 100 % efforts.
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