The Way Forward: Barcelona – AC Milan

I suppose I know what you’re here for: remuntada, offense is defense, ens hi deixem la pell, etc, yadda yadda. But I’m not going to do that. So now you’re here for how we, as supporters, must watch the match for the beauty, the joy, the mes que un club. Except Kxevin made his thoughts known previously on this matter, so I won’t bore you with that either.

What I will bore you with is the question (and potentially the answer to) how this match should be played out, but probably won’t be. There’s been a distinct lack of creativity coming from the coaching staff in recent weeks, especially when it came to the first Milan game and the 1-3 Copa del Rey loss. It wasn’t so much that either Milan or Madrid outplayed us, but rather that the team was set up to fail, with no real game plan other than trying to slowly pass the ball around high-pressing opponents. It’s not even that the team outplayed itself because that would suggest that the team was actually playing. It wasn’t. I’m not a big fan of “Route 1” (Also, I drove that highway through a lot of Maine once to find out what that was like: don’t do it), but I’m also not a fan of a complete lack of tactics.

The first thing is to put Adriano on the left and not not not, I repeat not, Jordi Alba. Here’s something: Alba is a fantastic player–he’s arguably the best left back in the world and is certainly in the top 5 if he isn’t the best–but he is either completely incapable of not making runs forward for 90 straight minutes or the coaches are completely incapable of telling him to stay put sometimes. Adriano, on the other hand, does exactly that. We’ll call it the Abidal Effect. When the left back stays back a bit, he cuts off passing channels that are otherwise wide open or he’s able to cover if the defense has to shift. It’s not really a question of height (Adriano is only 1 inch–2cm–taller than Alba), but rather of mentality, of natural positioning, and, I guess, of willingness to sacrifice forward-going tendencies to the good of the cause. Again, that could just be a tactical move by the coaching staff, but it opens up all sorts of problems when it’s coupled with the next paragraph…

Don’t start Cesc! He’s a very good midfielder. He has lots of strong suits, but playing in addition to Iniesta and Xavi, while good on paper, narrows the game too much. This isn’t because of Cesc, per se, but it is because of who isn’t playing because of Cesc: one of Villa, Alexis, Pedro, or Tello. Again, on paper, Iniesta on the left make some sense, especially with Alba on the field, but the actual outcome is that everyone is caught far up the field, there isn’t enough cover at the back, and the team is often sterile in possession as teams cut off supply lines instead of worrying about runners in on goal.

Thirdly: we shouldn’t play a 3-4-3. Part of what makes FCB’s attack so dynamic is that the wings shuttle in from time-to-time. Removing that and placing 3 centerbacks of questionable speed on the field does nothing to help the attack and is likely to be a defensive liability as it limits Busquets’ game. If a 3-4-3 is played, then Busquets is effectively removed from the equation and should likely sit out. That would be okay, except it would reduce the fluidity of the team in midfield with their exchanges (it would effectively flatten out the midfield). There is an argument to be made for it, of course, but when the team is at its best, it’s fluid enough to render the question of “3-4-3” or “4-3-3” or “1-8-1” meaningless. And make no mistake: it will have to be at its best against Milan in order to have even a snowball’s chance in Bangkok in April (which is when it is statistically hottest, according to Wikipedia). Set your thermostats to: aggressive.

It’s interesting that Graham Hunter highlights Xavi’s “revelation” prior to a major match, not because it’s telling or it’s a trope (it’s not), but because it’s what a lot of people have been saying for a while now, especially this site’s Tactics Guy, Euler. It’s also good to see that we’re not totally insane in our Twitter feedback loop, that a genius like Xavi actually agrees with us. But it’s also not going to be easy, by any stretch. Hunter points out, among other things, that Barcelona would be “the first team in Champions League history to overcome a two-goal first-leg deficit when they don’t have an away goal.” That’s an astonishing hill to climb at one of the highest levels in the sport.*

Whatever the actual percentages are on this (and I guess they’re historically 0%), I rate the team as having a 20% chance of going through. That, to me, is a mark of how much I believe in this team. The first leg was so abysmal that the likelihood of a positive outcome is very, very low. But I’ve seen crazier. My own sports history speaks to that: Kansas down 9 with 2:19 left on the clock against Memphis in the 2008 National Championship Game and yet Mario Chalmers was able to hit that three-pointer. I’ve watched outrageous plays in numerous sports, ridiculous wins by teams that couldn’t possibly win; this is our own hurry up offense kind of moment. But what actually works is if you relax. If you come at it easily. If you’re tense, you go home; you brick your free throws like Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts or you drop a pass or you, I don’t know, miss a wicket (I don’t know anything about cricket). Or you watch as shot after shot goes wide of the net; maybe you don’t even get any shots.

One final bit of trivia pulled from Graham Hunter’s piece: if Barcelona is eliminated by Milan, it will be their first such elimination since 2007. An unbelievable number of fans of this magnificent team of ours will hardly remember that year. It’s a long time again, in a land far away. We should appreciate that fact even as we hope that we do not have to think about it tomorrow evening. To make that happen, the crowd tomorrow must be on the team’s side. Cheering and uplifting their heroes, not brandishing rhetorical knives at refs or opponents’ bus-parking. Applauding the good play and blasting out the chants whenever they need to (or just feel like a good o le le o la la). It’s time the Camp Nou was behind the team, not against the opponents. This is a grand old stalwart of European competition we’re facing, but they’re also beatable, if only we’ll let ourselves try.

*It’s likely that this stat, pulled from that Hunter article, is about the Champions League and not the European Cup over the course of its history; I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure there were some such comebacks in past, even some by Barcelona.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. I agree with all the points you mentioned, especially the ones on Alba and Cesc. I think Cesc lately has been off form a little and should give way to Alexis who I think is more of a threat and defends better. I’m not the tactic genius so, I will leave that to others.
    I hope Barca can come through tomorrow and if not, I hope they put up one hell of a fight. I for one, get very nervous on the eve of big matches and after I post my comment here, I’m gonna stop reading up on any other Barca CL preview blog.
    I believe we are going to just squeak through. Unfortunately, I have an appointment and I will miss most if not the whole match. On that note, I wish us the best of luck for tomorrow and hope it turns out well.

    O Le Le, O La La, ser del Barca es el millor que hi ha!!!

    VISCA BARCA!!!! 🙂

  2. Excellent points. Agree with you that the 3-4-3 can really be a defensive option.
    I think we’ll go with a 4-3-3 because you can keep feeding wing-backs into the attack as needed.
    Think Alexis will be preferred to Villa, not because he’s more likely to score (probably not) but he will bring more people into the game playing at CF and be a bigger threat going in behind.
    I’d be inclined to play Cesc instead of Busquets in the holding role because of his passing range. Nobody hits a ball over the top better than Cesc.
    Get ready for some almighty goalmouth scrambles.

  3. A 3-4-3 diamond against Real Madrid would be fine but not against Milan. I will still go with a 3 man defense. May start with a four man defense which I slowly morph into a three man by pushing Alves in to a pure right winger role.

  4. Hello,

    I’m huge ACM fan for almost 20 years. Still, I can remember the great CL final vs Barcelona. That was a pure joy.

    In last 5 years I haven’t missed a SINGLE FCB and ACM game so far and I consider myself very competent to talk about these two teams 🙂 First game (at San Siro) was very very strange. ACM won by scoring twice but.. Believe me, they are very weak at the back and I don’t have any doubts that Barca will not score 4 this evening.

    Great comebacks are just same as great defeats. As a ACM fan, I still can’t forget Liverpool final and 4:1 lead over Deportivo (Milan lost 4:0 in the second game and shocked every single fan).

    Tonight Barcelona need tranquility and pass the ball all around the pitch. goals will come, ACM will concede a lot and will be defeated.

    1. I told you so. I knew it. Damn, I’m watching too many games 🙂

      Just before match I told my friend that put all money on 4:0 result. He didn’t!!!

      Barcelona was just perfect, no one is even close to them.

  5. I hope we get some out-of-the-box on target shots/goals like the 2011 final. They can be game changers; adriano’s vs athletico madrid; modric’s vs man utd

    Also anybody think we will see the pressing level from Pep’s era?

  6. I hope the midfield is either Busquets, Iniesta, Messi or if Xavi is playing it will be Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta. The former the better with Villa/Alexis/Pedro ahead so that there is somebody ahead of Messi who will occupy the Milan backs.
    Our midfield will make or our defence will kill this match.


    I took this from one tennis match which is exactly what we need: “the guts, the destiny, the skill, the desire to hang in”.

    It will be a game of inches and we can do it,

    Cheers everybody, let’s enjoy this one; with that never-ending smile going to bed, waking up…

  8. I hope “F9” is abandoned for this game, though i doubt it will be. For “F9” to be effective, two things needs to happen.
    First) Apply the pressing relentlessly, “Pep Guardiola era style”.
    Second) The passing must be crisp,quick and at pace.

    I personally believe that if the above are not applied and Messi is deployed(AGAIN) as a F9, then the “Bird Cage” will come into effect AGAIN and we as fans will experience an ever so familiar “dejavu”.

    But then again, what do i know?

  9. I don’t mind we do not qualify for the next round. I don’t mind even if we lose. But I DO MIND we do not put up a fight like the first leg. Keep fighting to the end. That’s all I want to see.

    1. I wish I could upvote this. Completely agree. I want to see Messi press, I want to see the intent from everyone. I want them to leave it all on the pitch tonight.

    2. I have my Champions 2011 polo on today for the match. Hopefully it’s better luck than my jerseys have been the past couple of weeks! I have a good feeling.

  10. Don’t know how this sounds but last season, what gave madrid the edge in the liga, was their ability to win penalties. Am not advicing our players to go diving in the box but players like messi and iniesta whose play draws fouls easily from their markers should try getting in the box and forcing the milan defenders to make a tackle that may lead to a penalty. Just suggesting though

  11. The players have to leave their skins on the pitch tonight.
    If Adriano and Sanchez start, I would really like our odds.
    Intelligent use of width, attacking the byline, crashing the box, taking shots and the 6 second rule of pressing will be key tonight.
    Keep the faith y’all.


  12. I don’t care who plays. I don’t care who sits in the dug-out. I don’t care what pundits say. All I care and hope for is a camp Nou reaction like that of anfield. This team would respond if they hear the chants and see the cheerful faces of the fans. Roar, scream, shout, throw your hands in the sky, wave those plastics.. The team would respond. I have watched all th games we lost this season. They team panicked when things we tough. Afraid of who? The fans I guess. I could see “oh gosh we disappointed our fans again” on their faces. But they need to know we don’t care about defeats or we care about is give us something positive. Put in a fight. And the inspiration to do so would come from the fans. IF YOU PLAN TO BE SILENT TONIGHT AT TH CAMP NOU DON’T GO. BETTER AN EMPTY STADIUM THAN QUIET FANS. like we say where I come from CULES NO DULLING… cheer them… They would fight like the warriors in Spartacus blood and bones… Leggoooooooo!! PS. I am going to roar in my room tonight, landlord better be ready. Hopefully tonight sound travels with th speed of light

  13. Go FC Barca First Team!

    I wanted to point out that my morning dog walk/spa treatment has unearthed the following thought:

    Milan will be playing to score, not to keep Barca from scoring.


    1. Of course they will play to score. But the best way to score against us is to keep us from scoring and hit us on the break.

    2. “keep us from scoring and hit us on the break,” exactly, but “keeping us from scoring” has evolved to attacking Barca’s midfield and playing a higher defensive line with at least one fast central defender. It is not the same as parking the bus and results in a greater variety of scoring chances for RMadrid and those following their playbook. The diagonal balls over the heads of Barca CBs to wing players running toward the middle are still working, too, in case Milan do want to park the bus. So, my dog walk re-asks the question, “who/how are Barca CBs being supported?”

  14. Crazy or genius, take your pick:


    What of your stacked midfield box NOW, Milan, with the most dangerous player in the world coming at you from the left side of the pitch, eh?

    1. Interesting. IMO though, Alves is the better attacking threat from the fullback position (making delayed runs on defender’s blind side), and Adriano is a bigger threat from the wing (closer touch and dribbling, and of course his shooting). So Puyol LB, Alves RB, Adriano LW, Messi RW.

    2. I’d take that, too. Anything except Messi in the middle. My problem with Adriano as LW is that it means Alba would play, and I am with Isaiah on his unsuitability to be in our lineup for this big match.

  15. First time poster, somewhat of a newbie…followed Spain in World Cup 2010 and went to Barcelona later that year for visit..fell in love with place, even went to game vs Hercules…which we lost…

    I’m on this site numerous times a day and love reading posts by everyone…

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m a novice by footballing standards, I’m from the US and used to coach baseball in college…so my technical knowledge of the game is not up to par but I notice things from a managerial aspect that I constantly wonder about…and in reading comments from our posters, I’d like to throw my two cents in.

    Obviously, in any sport/business, you have to continually tweak or forward your thinking to stay one step ahead of your competitors. I guess where I’m confused is why after our 2010 season where we had a solid defense (I miss Abidal like others), the solid midfield play and MVP up front…why have we seemed to stray so far from that philosophy…and by that I mean:

    A good defense always beats a good offense
    Proven scorers (not just one ala Messi)

    Our lineup earlier this year was a bunch of midfielders and Messi, goals were aplenty and all was good but as I like to say – the NBA doesn’t start till the 4th quarter , everyone makes adjustments during the year and yet here we are trotting the same lineup in our 4th quarter (the last couple Madrid games and AC Milan I’m speaking to)…(and don’t tell me it works for Spain – I’d argue Spain has a more solid defense and can get away with it more than Barca can)…

    In baseball, the importance of solid threats throughout the lineup usually leads to wins (and a good pitcher – as noted above, a good defense). Having one homerun hitter on the team usually doesn’t amount to winning a World Series, sure you can win plenty of games…but as the season progresses the over-dependence on one player, one the other team pitches around due to the lack of support…more often than not that team is watching the World Series from their couch in October.

    Why are we putting out a team, or not putting out weapons that defenses have to respect? Some of our responses are to put wide players out there instead of a goal scorer like Villa (who is a solid threat in the lineup like Messi)…

    Messi said as much that Villa out there draws players so he has more space…I get the width part, I think…look at Sanchez goal the other day, Villa stepped up and took two defenders with him, boom – a wide open header.

    Absence of a defense, which we can’t solve overnight…we need goal scorers, simply passing it around to midfielders and wingers that shoot from 30 yards out will not cut it.

    Last year, no Villa, Pedro out of form, Sanchez injured and not able to get consistent minutes…we saw what happened…

    I hope I’m wrong, as at the end of the day I’m a fan like you…I don’t want to have a another lonely end of May, watching some other team hoist the trophy that should be ours…

    1. Nice post, welcome, and you’re right. The problem is that on form, we only really HAVE one threat, and that’s Messi. Sanchez is showing signs, Villa is showing signs, Pedro, alas, is not. So maybe that means a Messi/Sanchez/Villa attack today. Who knows?

      I do know that Sanchez is the kind of player that a defense like Milan’s HATES: constant movement and good with the ball at his feet.

  16. I hope Milan won’t play like they did 3 weeks ago. If they do, I don’t see us progressing. We might draw or win by 1 goal but it won’t be enough.

    One thing I wish I could tell our players is to not try to get a Milan player sent off. That will give them another good reason to camp in their box ala Inter.

    Besides the parking the bus tactics due to a man down, I just want all the players to behave. Win or lose doesn’t matter. Just go about it gracefully.

    1. exactly my thoughts too – If they put in the same strong defensive performance like the first leg, it will be incredibly difficult for us to go through.
      Inter, Chelsea all are recent examples.
      Still hoping for us to get through. Hope Milan gets some stage fright today.

  17. Jim you should follow the Guardian minute by minute report or play by play. Can’t remember the exact name.

    Or if possible, listen to the radio. For all the money that Sky has spent on tv, they should have a live radio broadcast too. That’s how I used to follow matches in Holland last time.

  18. If I was the manager, I’d roll out with this;

    Puyol/sMasch – Pique – Alba
    Alves – Xavi – Busi – Iniesta
    Adriano – Messi – Alexis

    To keep both sides of our backs balanced,
    Adriano to cover up for Alves and
    Alexis to cover up for Alba. Have to remind Alba to be less adventurous though.

  19. I can’t remember which match it was but it was in the late 90’s in a similar situation. 2nd leg at home needing a big comeback. Cruyff said that they widened the pitch to give us some advantage. I think they should do it now too although I doubt there’s any space left.

    Kluivert talked about how our pitch is much bigger. I used to think so too but after seeing the figures a few years back, it appeared that the reason why the pitch at Camp Nou looks very big is because of the camera angle. I’m on the phone now. Really lazy to Google the pitch sizes. In any case, I think Kluivert should know better since he played for both teams.

  20. My lineup would be:


    ——–Puyol Smash Pique

    ——Alves Cesc Iniesta Alba

    ——-Adriano Messi Tello

  21. fcbfan10 says:

    “I don’t mind we do not qualify for the next round. I don’t mind even if we lose. But I DO MIND we do not put up a fight like the first leg. Keep fighting to the end. That’s all I want to see.”

    Exactly this. I’ll only add that I want the coaching staff to really try too, put up a lineup thats aggressive and says we aren’t just picking a Gala 11 and fitting them in 4-3-3 somehow. Really go for it!

    Olele Olala ser del Barca es el millor que hi ha!

    1. Yep, I just want to see us play pretty again. And by pretty I mean movement, precision, brilliance, and passion. It’s our ball and NO you can’t have it!

  22. I have to be at work during the game. I can only follow it on gamecast. 🙁
    So cheer loudly for me!

  23. Questions: Who is marking Prince B, the opportunist? Who is marking Montolivo, the Pirlo of Milan? And, to a lesser extent but not to be overlooked, the Berbatov of Italy, Pazzini? These are their “goal makers.” If they are not marked, Milan will make chances to score.

    The Milan “Messi Box” was Muntari Boateng Montolivo and Ambrosini. What happens without Messi in the box? What else can be done if Messi stays in the box?

    Below is my recreation of Milan v.1 and Barca in an alternate shape adding a fast CB, a tall CB with something to prove, and a more defensive disciplined LB who can shoot from distance. I moved Messi out of the MessiBox in the direction where he is less likely to cut in to the middle (into the MessiBox) to shoot and more likely to draw Zapata out of position (also keep Abate from attacking.) Alves is playing well, let him. This line-up is very offensive. More defensive line-up would replace Villa with Puyol and move Song onto Boateng and let Adriano attack (some.)

    Alves Song Mascher
    El SHA PAZZINI Adriano
    | Bousquets
    | Xavi BOATENG
    | Iniesta
    AMBRO Sanchez Messi

    Many thanks,


    1. My drawing was so much better than that! I trust you are all fanatics and can figure out what I was trying to do. Just add width! I was trying to show that Adriano would end up on Boateng. Iniesta on Montolivo. Ambrosini would have to stick to Alexis. Song and Bousquets could watch el Sharawi if he didn’t track Alves and Muntari did. Messi would draw Zapata and Villa would score hat trick…

      Based on ZM’s drawing here

      Much to learn.


    2. Crazy FCB-style attacking version plus my modifications:

      —AMBROS Sanchez———-Messi

      Thats better!

    3. Defensive version:

      ———–Bousquets Song

    4. Milan’s back line looks wrong in this drawing. It would change to:

      CONST—–Sanchez MEXES—ABATE

    5. Pazzini is out of the squad injured. That is good for us because his hold up play and ability in the air as well as defending set pieces annoyed us a lot last time. Niang is faster, a better dribbler and probably stronger even though he is 18 but part of the reason he could impact the game last time was Pazzini’s dirty work dragging our defenders about before he was subbed. On the other hand with El Shaarawy and Niang they might be more potent on the counter attack this time and both players track back to defend in their own box. Having said this, we have beaten better more experienced teams before so all we can do is hope for no silly mistakes from our boys on the defensive end.

    6. Hi JordiTM,

      The lack of Pazzini is very good news. Niang was impact sub, but, if Barca makes it’s luck, he could find his control leaves him in when he looks in Puyol’s eyes.

  24. “Who is marking Montolivo, the Pirlo of Milan?” oh.

    why isnt the lineup

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