Barcelona were on cruise control for 40 minutes. After Pedro’s first half goal and David Villa’s beauty of a free kick in the 50th minute, the next 40 minutes seems like a formality. Messi, Xavi, Fabregas and the rest just passed the ball around, without creating too much, while Milan players just stood and watched. And then, from nowhere, came Thiago Silva and a quite shocking 2-2 draw.
The game’s start was just as stunning. It took Alexandre Pato only 25 seconds to get on the score sheet. The Barcelona defense, pretty patched up as it is, was just too slow for the gazelle like Pato, one of the fastest strikers in Europe. Signs of panic were revealed everytime Pato had some open space, striding towards the goal. After 5 minutes, Milan’s initative and attempt at finding the net again seemed to end.
Barcelona quickly found the midfield to be their own, and the usual possession game began. AC Milan defended in a way Barcelona aren’t used to – in the box, instead of a high line, somewhere around 18 meters from goal. That pretty much disabled the double-pass game Barca usually play, and took out Dani Alves from the game. Alessandro Nesta displayed a tackling clinic, in the few times Lionel Messi was actually able to step away from his double or triple team followers.
But not everyone is Nesta. For example, Ignazio Abate. A winger turned into a defender. Extremely fast and fantastic physical attributes, but not the smartest or most aware of defenders. Lionel Messi was chased down by three players, including Abate, in the box, setting up an easy Pedro goal who was completely forgotten. If anyone can turn a confident and organized defense to panicky one, it’s Messi.
Andres Iniesta left, Cesc Fabregas came in. Not much of a change, but Fabregas, who has found himself scoring quite a lot since leaving Arsenal to join the Catalan giants, does add a different dimension than Iniesta. It wasn’t highlighted today.
Milan? The gritty midfield of Van Bommel, Nocerino and Seedorf was there to disrupt, not create. Seedorf did try here and there, but was unable to feed Cassano and Pato with quality passes – closed down to quickly and too busy with defensive roles. Sacrifices must be made when facing Barcelona.
David Villa’s wonderful strike just 5 minutes after the break should have ended the match. Milan opened up, just a bit, but Barcelona still hardly found a way through that cagey and tight defense. Alessandro Nesta was keeping things from falling apart while his teammates looked more and more lost, worn out by chasing the ball.
Puyol’s entrance in the 67th minute put some order in the Barcelona back, but they couldn’t capitalize on their usual possession dominance (75%-25%). Milan made a few changes, throwing in Aquilani and Emanuelson, but that didn’t change anything in the game dynamics. Barca kept pressing, but without any sting to it. Everyone, including Milan, appeared to be content with 2-1 scoreline.
And then came an injury time corner kick, and Thiago Silva rising high above the careless Barcelona defense, giving Milan a valuable point that put big smiles on the Rossoneri faces.
So, Barcelona drop a lead two matches in a row, leaving with only a point. Although this game has nothing to do with the 2-2 draw against Sociedad on Saturday, the way the defense is holding up while Pique and Puyol are out (Puyol slowly returning though) does cause some worries. The attack? Not everyday is a 5 goal game. Even without the injured Alexis Sanchez (and possibly Iniesta now?), scoring goals isn’t the problem. Dropping points they shouldn’t, home and away, League and Europe, is.