Off To That One City Again: Milan – Barcelona


I’ve previously written about The Moral City of Italy (is that really what it’s called?) as a stand-in for rampaging Visigoths. I’ve also previously written about the city while attempting to avoid discussions of medieval warfare. Blitzen has gotten in on that act as well. I feel like I can’t possibly write more about Milan. And yet, here we are, on the even of another Champions League encounter with a team from that very city. The only thing left to talk about is the thing no one wants to talk about. No, not Bojan; politics.

Whatever your political beliefs, it would be foolish to forget that when Sport or Marca discuss Silvio Berlusconi and su” (“his”) Milan, they’re putting extraneous quotation marks around words. It’s actually his Milan. He owns them. And his political fortunes rise and fall with them. Forza Italia was a play on Forza Milan. What this match means is a potential blockbuster success for Berlusconi as he seeks a return to power. It is not necessarily an important political victory for Sandro Rosell, but a victory wouldn’t hurt his waning popularity among socis. It would obviously be foolish to pit these two sides against each other as some sort of Evil Empire East versus the Forces of Good, but there’s little doubt that political victories have been earned with less.

The individual players are probably not worried about whether particular political actors will win election or re-election due to their on-field achievements, but if football were played in a vacuum, the players would suffocate there wouldn’t be much point to watching, would there? There certainly would be a lot less to write about, anyway. As it is, there is so much going on behind-the-scenes that few Champions League matches will have the wider ramifications that this one will. Yes, it’s true that the “wider ramifications” of Barcelona being eliminated by AC Milan would by socis and not the general population, but I can easily envision a Rosell-vs-Laporta fight to the death regarding the future of this club, the Catalan state, and questions of regional autonomy revolving around the idea that “Well, I never got eliminated in the Round of 16, you big lummox.” (The counter argument is that, well, of course Barcelona lost in the Round of 16 under Laporta: 2006–07 and 2004–05; just not with this group of players, so n’yah!)

What is on paper a whitewash (Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta vs Boateng, Robinho, and Philip Mexes…and Bojan) was made significantly closer with the addition of the exquisitely talented and insatiably insane Mario Balotelli. A scintillating matchup between the powerful intensity of one of the world’s strikers and…oh, he’s cup-tied? Nevermind. We’re back to the drawing board here at the Barcelona Football Blog offices. The truth, though, is that Milan have been playing fairly well recently, having won 4 of 5 in Serie A. They haven’t lost since December 22, a run of 7 matches. Granted, their 4 most recent goals were scored by Balotelli (there was an own goal mixed in there), but that doesn’t mean they are unable to score without him. The bigger key is that 2 of those 4 were penalties. Without Balotelli, the team loses a major striking option, but they do have several others. Pato, the man who scored so quickly against Barcelona last season in the group stage, is not one of them, having moved to Corinthians. Thiago Silva, the other goal scorer in that match shipped off to PSG before the season began. Their third goalscorer against Barcelona was Zlatan Ibarhimovic. Only Boateng, who netted Milan’s 2nd with a gorgeous goal in a 2-3 Barcelona victory at the San Siro in November 2011, remains on the squad from last year’s group stage goal scorers. (Antonio Nocerino, Milan’s only goal scorer when the two teams met in the quarter finals in March and April 2012, is also still with the team)

While Milan is considerably different than it was last year, it is still in 3rd place in Italy. They obviously finished 2nd in their Champions League group, but they did fend off a fairly strong group, led by winners Malaga and followed by 1 point by Zenit St. Petersburg and 3 points by Anderlecht. Milan proved their stuff with a victory at Zenit; their first goalscorer from that match, Urby Emanuelson, is no longer with the club, having moved to Fulham on loan, but the name to remember for this whole thing, Stephan El Shawaary also made the scoresheet that night.

It’s Shawaary that provides both the talent and the hope for Milan: he is their up-and-coming striker who often plays on the wing. He’s come into his own this year, having scored some 15 goals in 22 matches, good for 2nd best in the league. He has a tremendous right foot and excellent tight control. And he’s fast. He left a couple of Barcelona defenders in his wake last year and could very easily do it again if given the opportunity. With Boateng in the middle, Milan has a rather impressive dual attack they’re able to mount. It will be up to Barcelona to cut off the supply lines. The usual prescription of suffocation by lack of possession might just do the trick, but their counters could very well be lethal.

Who else does Milan have? Hmm. Can’t think of anyone.

When I get off this bench, you’ll be sorry…

Official Prediction: 1-1. Everything to play for at the Camp Nou, but with a slight advantage to Barcelona given the away goal. I think it will be a tight, cagey affair as Milan pack it in and hope to catch FCB on the break. And they’ll do it once. The real winner, both at club level and at political level, will be determined in the second leg.

By Isaiah

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


  1. it has been good defending. Have to admit. Atleast in chelsea drogba was atrocious with his timewasting. Here they have been very good.

    1. Oh come on. Have a look again. He didnt have a lot of choice there or the first man was getting the shot away.

    2. Alves has a man to mark in the middle. He tried to block the pass but failed. I think somebody on the right side (Pedro or Xavi) should have come back and track the person who was completely unmarked.

      To be fair, many goals conceded on the right flank this season were not purely Alves’s fault. How often did we see Pedro or whoever on the right flank track back to the box this season? I don’t recall a lot.

      Also this season our attacking force has shifted to the left side because of Alba. This left our right side less dangerous on attacking but more shady on defending. Remember how we used to blame our left defenders (Abidal, Adriano, ….) for goals? It’s the same reason.

    3. Disagree on this one. He was definitely covering for Pique on the 2nd goal. I thought he was one of the few bright spots in the team today. It was the front 5 that blew it today.

  2. One of the worst Barca performances I have ever seen. Milan have been ordinary but Barca have been absolutely dreadfull.

    1. I thought it was to cold but I’m going back out to the wood shop. Maybe I’ll make a book shelf or something.

  3. With all that’s being said, I think we ought to give it up to Milan for sticking to their tasks tonight and carrying out their tactics well. Great game-plan too; evidence: they won.

    I think Barca need a tonic. I hope this match clears up some ideas about the “system” and how and when it is most effective (food for thought).

    With all this being said, I’m PISSED AS HELL RIGHT NOW, and it aint with the ref… Dammit! Barca wasn’t “unlucky” tonight; for me, our standard was low.

    We’ll see what we’re really made of come the next match (and the Real Madrid. The outcome will define us for many, and there will be no excuses.

    Win as a team, lose as a team. Visca Barca!

  4. this is why i hate when the official site, in the lead up to the game, goes on and on about how we havent lost to milan in 9 years. why be so cocksure?

  5. Awful, awful.
    Who’s tonight scapegoat? Will somebody state that Iniesta and Xavi were dreadful and absolutely did nothing? Or it’s Messi’s fault for not tracking back?
    I have mentioned several times and i will say it again. Forward’s first task is to go forward and try and create something or take a chance.
    Congratulations to Milan, very well deserved victory.

    1. It’s not somebody’s fault. We don’t have a coach sitting on the bench. Does anyone seriously believe our beautiful football is merely due to the talents of players? The coach does a lot of things, especially in critical matches like this. This game reminds me the last games under Rijkarrd. The coach did little and players tried hard but didn’t know what could work out. I am missing Tito.

    2. Nevertheless, this was exact copy of some of the painful matches that we have lost in the resent times. When you see that during the first half, why persisting to continue with the same attitude and game plan? What’s the point?
      Milan parked the bus. Everybody knew that they are going to do that. Coaches job is to try and figure it out how to unbreak it, and surprise us all with something unfamiliar for Barcelona. That’s that plan B and plan C and plan D…
      When was the last time that they did surprised us in these sort of games?

  6. we will probably need at least 4 goals at home. i like them to nick one….

    stranger things have happened,but….ugh….

    1. I agree. In the group stage I already see Barca won’t go far this year in the CL. Shaky defense, other attackers can’t score except Messi… This season Barca consistently lacked good performance against good teams (even in the League, just think about games against RM, Valencia, Seville, Malaga, etc). I feel Barca lost the sharpness and solidness against strong teams, which were the hallmark of Pep’s Barca.

    2. Your comment about Barca is absolutely true. I have never been this uncomfortbale and fearful whenever Barca plays against big clubs. Even when we end up winning it’s not always convincing or decisive. Maybe I should lower my expectation and stop seeing Braca as favorites. Interestingly, just before the game I had an arguement with a friend who is a Chelsea fan. He told me Barca wil be knocked out soon but I told him we are winning the CL because of the wembley factor. But see now.

  7. You can’t argue with the quality of their defence. I could hardly see a chance to pass through them whole game and I was watching on TV! Expected no less from an Italian team. Turning point was the lucky break for the first goal. Need to watch the second again. Not sure how we got stretched so quickly.

    Having said that, we really can’t rely on Messi against a whole Italian defence. When he drops that deep we need someone playing the real 9 who is comfortable with his back to the goal.

    Congratulations to them. However, it’s not over yet.

  8. Ugh…

    Our system has mutated back into what it was in 2011-2012. Tippy tappy with no penetration. Milan’s CB didnt break a sweat. I can only assume the result would have been very different had Tito been here. No movement, no urgency for most of the game, and very little direction.

    I can’t point my disapointment at one player, because the failure was a collective one IMO.

    There is still a 40% chance we can knick two goals in the camp nou and win it on penalties. Here’s hoping the kinks get sorted by then


  9. Hopefully if the other games weren’t enough of a wake up call this one is. We have a problem and it needs addressing quickly.

  10. do we have a shot on goal? not even one clear cut chance was created. tonight’s performance was worse than chelsea last season. huge, HUGE task ahead back at home ground. and xavi looked not himself. was messi on the pitch? all i saw was our captain puyi.

    1. statistically we had one, a tame chip by Xavi on to the hand of Abbiati. I have said in one post that this season we looked like a an upgraded version of Arsenal and someone actually recommended for the worst over reaction by a cule award.

      Today everyone saw what we were. Last season also we failed against Chelsea, but that was mainly because we didn’t take our chances. at least we created something. This match we did nothing stroked the ball here and there. I was expecting Roura to send Tello in for Cesc at half time, all I got was Alexis.

      We actually went forward on the left flank once, a area we were using so well this season.

      If we have to get through this tie, we have to be really lucky and also for heaven’s sake move Villa into middle and start Messi on right for a change. The combination between Messi and alves on right should stretch any team.

    2. messi was standing on the right flank for the last 10 min. but he was completely ignored. ball kept going back to left side with iniesta and alba(or alexis).

    3. I actually agree with your last paragraph. Villa is a no brainer if we’re to have any chance. Cesc starts on the bench and I think we start Messi on the right. They’ll double team him but won’t want to put three defenders wide. The problem tonight was that the defenders marking Messi in the middle weren’t isolated from the rest of the defence and could contribute to clogging up all the passing angles.

      Mind you, it would also help if we could get the ball to him quickly. Big call for Roura to make though.

  11. Can’t see any chance of us turning this around. Milan will get one at the Nou Camp so we will need FOUR! No chance.

  12. There’s still that return leg. Although tough, I fancy we’ll go through. Un-cule-istic optimism 🙂

  13. Year after year they take notes and upgrade the bus. Yet when we face it we come with the same gameplan. When is it gonna end?

    1. Interesting viewpoint. It sure does seem that way to observers.

      I always say if it happens once (maybe a few times) you are unlucky; if it happens often enough it is all at you.

  14. I laughed to myself thinking this is what we get for debating Messi the whole week and nothing toward Milan and tactics best suited, etc.

    Messi’s “haters” can come out for sure now. He deserves it in this one. But so do many others. Team loss.

    “Join us in the next couple of weeks to find whether this season will be a bust or not. The drama in the off-season might be a lot more than expected if we do (maybe coaching staff and all). Who knows? As has been noted cules like to over-react. Same teams, different stadium, same channel.”

  15. Its gonna be tough on the return cause we have a hard couple of weeks ahead. Here is hoping we man up with a good rotation.

  16. Barcelona are going to destroy Milan in the Camp Nou. Barcelona have never turned around a 2-0 deficit but this will be the first time.

  17. A point I raised after the last match against Granada – I agree that our playing style is such that we are going to concede a goal every match. Clean sheets are going to be rare. But then, doesn’t that put a lot of pressure on us? It becomes almost necessary for us to score the first goal. If we concede first, then it is highly likely that teams will start parking buses and planes. Especially in high profile Champions League matches or finals. Conceding first also opens us up to more counter attacks.

  18. Should I still not be worried about this match? As I said earlier, Milan have the very things that can trouble us. It’s the Chelsea blueprint: Give them possession, don’t let them in the box, mark Messi heavily and look for the counter. And it worked. Well played. Now we see if they can survive in our house in three weeks’ time.

    I’m not talking any of that “remuntada” stuff, either. I’m talking about the best club in the world playing like it, and kicking their asses in our house, in front of our fans.

    There will be analysis and all that stuff, and chatter about what did or didn’t happen. But let’s not forget that simple fact. If the best damn club in the world plays like it in three weeks time, we’re advancing. If it doesn’t, congratulate the victors and move on.

    1. Why the best club in the world has to wait for three weeks to play like it knows in order to win? That was something they had to do it this game.

  19. When xavi was in that ocean of space he could have taken a shot. Abbiati is a shot spiller, you never know what rebounds might happen.It Encapsulates our entire game today, we didn’t penetrate their box once. We have had some shockers away from home in the cl over the years but this might be hard to top for the sheer sterility of our play. Not just reputation wise, but financially it will be a sizable hit if we go out in the round of 16. Something that didnt happen since that Liverpool game. Its funny how we can transpose any fail year and its the same, 2007 or 2012 or 2013. Average side with decent discipline and physically tough players and we wonder why the dont part the defense for us like moses. The worse part is we have to wait 3 weeks for a rematch. Im serious when I say we might fate to help out with a combination of sending offs penalties and important players missing through injury. One goal by them and we need three more. Hopefully there is a volcano that interrupts their plane trip and they have to take the bus. One thing is certain, we never lost to a team with worse hairstyles.

  20. that was pathetic from Barça. as insipid a display as i’ve seen since Rijkaard’s can’t-be-bothered team of 07-08. Pedro anonymous, Messi ambivalent, Cesc pointless, Alexis lost. Xavi just coming back from injury wasn’t sharp. our faithful Iniesta was the only player on the pitch who can hold his head high after that performance.

    we lacked utterly any sort of tactical variation or new ideas when it was crystal clear our gameplan not only wasn’t working, but could not work against the way in which Milan were set up, and Roura simply isn’t a coach; there will not be another transfer from head to assistant manager next time. the longer Tito is out the more lackluster our play has been and the lack of direction is painfully clear. of course we cannot blame him for getting treatment, but not having a manager is affecting our play and, it appears, the motivation of the players.

    truly an awful performance, worse than the last time we played an Italian team in Milan… and we all know how that turned out.

  21. Hate to say it but on re watching I reckon on the second goal Xavi doesn’t track his man back and it is him who scores.

  22. It’s like parked buses take them by surprise every damn year.. at least try some outside shots if nothing else works

  23. I won’t argue the result coz, Milan played their game and executed it well. Barca were horrible and lacklustre. Not too sure of their selves. It was deserved and well done to Milan. However, it is a two legged tie and until the return leg, I still think we have a chance. arsenal almost did it last yr and were short one goal to overturn a 0-4 deficit. VAMOS BARCA!!! We can do it.

    Pointing fingers right now is not going to change the result.

  24. Guys, this is three knock out games in a row away from home without an away goal. Milan last year, Chelsea, now Milan again. One of the reasons we reached so many semi finals and finals in recent times is the ability to score away from so that even a team scoring at Camp Nou first would not be a disaster. See the Arsenal Games a few years ago. If by some miracle we qualify, we have to get back to doing everything possible to score at least once when on our travels. Trying to take zero risks so we wont concede is counter productive when the team still scores (TWICE) anyway.

  25. Started the two weeks from hell with a painful loss but I believe we’ll rise up and fight like the team we know they can be.

    And even if we don’t make it past the Rd of 16, would still be a great season for me, in the face of adversity.

    Not a good showing from any player tonight. I can’t really pinpoint what we were trying to do in the second half cause the players looked clueless. One of the worse performances I’ve seen in a while. No bad luck, just outplayed by Milan.

    I really hope this gives the players the real kick up the backside they need to continue competing in all competitions.

    1. Puyol was the exception. Gave everything defensively and almost scored with his head ripped open.

  26. Very dissappointed performance by barca.No pressing, no urgency, no movement at all.

    Btw, i am new to this site. This is the first time i’ve posted but i always enjoy reading match review especially from kxevin and all the interesting disscussion made by cules around the worrld.

    Nice to meet you all!

    1. And you as well. Welcome to the world, and I only wish we were all clinking glasses and popping streamers to celebrate a match well played.

    2. Thanks kxevin. Waiting for your next review.

      Just a little tought for this match. Our winger did nothing rather than pass the ball back to the midfield. They did’nt even try to beat their own marker. Supported by little movement from fab, our boys look veryyy you have any idea about it?

    3. Bad match by the team. It happens, and will happen again. And Milan played their butts off. That will happen again, as well. We saw their best match. Now let’s see if they can handle OUR best match.

      As nzm put it, Fabregas/Xavi/Iniesta on the pitch mean too many chefs, and nobody to deliver the food. Messi is always going to be defended by at least 3 by a team with half a brain. The problem with Pedro was summed up in the pass that saw him in the box, faced with a defender. He passed it back to Xavi, and the attack (such as it was) reset.

      Teams are letting Alves play, because he has become an island on the right. He isn’t going to score the goal to beat you, so as long as you don’t let his crosses go anywhere, let him play as much as he wants. On the other side, Milan worked to keep the passing angles closed, and Alba wasn’t interacting at all with Iniesta because Milan overplayed him as they did Messi.

      It was a very intelligent game plan augmented by the wrong personnel, to my view. But I’m not the coach. Our coaching staff had to say to themselves (as I would have), “Let go with out best XI. If eleven of the best players in the world can’t score a goal or two against any team in the world, then something is wrong.”

  27. Not enough pace and width – Cesc should never have played;
    Nobody ahead of Messi to provide some sort of focus from the play;
    Not enough attack from midfield, particularly when Barca were chasing an away goal. The Don always got forward to join the front line. But nobody else did. Sorry, but that was the time when Busquets had to step past his man and thread attacking passes. He was anonymous. Hopefully, Song will get a game in the return leg.
    Fortunately, this all means there is likely to be a big shake-up. It was a long time coming. Now it has to happen.

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