A rivalry can be big only by name, because for the last few years, it’s not a really fair fight between Barcelona and AC Milan, a club in deep trouble after two or three years of completely mismanaging their transfer policy. On the happier side of the chasm, Neymar is playing like he’s in Brazil again, while Lionel Messi proves he hasn’t forgotten how to score and it’s only a matter of time before we’re going to see the numbers we’re used to from him.
It has taken Neymar some time to step out of the shell created for him during his early days at Barcelona – a useful winger who doesn’t break the mold, and does exactly what’s asked of him. In the last few weeks he’s becoming more and more confident about starting to play like he’s a Santos players – isolation on the wing, the trickery and dribbling which almost put him on the scoresheet with a brilliant goal, and in general torturing the full back picked to mark him for an entire match.
Lionel Messi looks unhappy, but maybe it’s just the pain of playing with something bothering him, or the fear of hurting his leg again. Until his 83rd minute, as Milan were finally opening up to try and salvage something from the match, Messi struggled getting involved. Milan were always with two players on him at all time. But as Allegri opened up his formation, Messi found more and more space to operate in, eventually a 1-2 with Cesc Fabregas gave him a wide open penalty box and the chance to chip above of Abbiati for the closer in the 3-1 victory.
Barcelona isn’t the team that will determine the future at AC Milan, be it Galliani’s or Allegri’s, but starting the match without a true striker (Robinho hasn’t been that player for a very long time) isn’t how you pry points out of Barcelona. It might make it difficult for them, but there are ways of playing well against the Spanish champions without giving up on any chance to have initiative or have actual possession for more than 10-15 seconds.
Mario Balotelli started off the bench and changed the matched. He is much better when he plays on the wing, able to use his speed and strength on space instead of having to elbow his way through central defenders on a normal match. Kaka is getting better, but he hardly beats players in one on one situations, even though he doesn’t stop trying, which also helped Milan score their only goal through an own goal by Gerard Pique.
Barcelona are almost through to the next round, if there was even a question about it, but the dominance of Neymar and Messi’s “drought” ending were the most important thing to take from a match that shouldn’t have gotten eve slightly complicated thanks to an easy 2-0 lead early on. Barcelona missed too many excellent chances in the second half, and if Milan were a slightly more fortunate side this season, it might have ended up very differently in the Camp Nou.