It was the fourth game within two weeks for both sides, but none of the players would be too unhappy about more congested fixtures after this night.
Barcelona would have held an advantage over the aging visitors AC Milan, but Guardiola was not overwhelmed by their home advantage. A 4-4-2 formation was still employed. Fabregas was restored to the lineup while Keita was benched. Youngster Cuenca got a surprising start over Pedro and Alexis Sanchez.
The veterans Nesta and Seedorf returned to offer the Italian side stability after their disappointing draw at Catania during the weekend. Abate’s speed was also preferred over Bonera’s strength in this contest. Nevertheless, the superior Italian defence had failed to contain Barca, not even for a quarter of an hour into the match.
Messi and Fabregas had connected for a few times early in the match, and that had shaken Antonini slightly, who made a silly tackle in the box on the Argentine. Messi converted the penalty to give Barcelona a well-deserved early lead.
The even higher defensive line at Nou Camp did not favour the playing style of Ibrahimovic. The Swedish often found himself crowded by white shirts as soon as he got the ball. In a pitch of much better quality, Barcelona had no trouble in mastering ball possession once again.
However, Mexes and Nesta had the quality and experience to withstand the enormous pressure from the Spaniards. Abbiati had often found himself well-shielded from threats. Praise should also be given to the Italian goalkeeper’s determination and concentration to stop Alves and Messi doubling the lead.
This gave Milan half a chance to get back into the game. The midfield fuelled by Nocerino and Boateng did not shy away from running at defenders. Their tireless runs were rewarded, when Robinho, whose match fitness had improved since the first leg, sent Nocerino to acres of space with a sweet pass. Milan scored a goal double the value of Messi’s.
Barcelona did not spend long to restore the lead, though, through an unfashionable way which most Italians would not agree. Nesta was judged to have got the shirt of Busquets during a corner, even though 9 out of 10 referees in the world would have ignored this type of contact. Busquets got the win stake of the gamble and Abbiati was once again beaten by Messi twelve yards out.
Milan still had the belief that they could score the second goal, boosted by the 2-2 draw at Nou Camp during Group Stage this season. But playing a fast pressing in Barca’s own half left their back more exposed. Iniesta timed a perfect run to collect a Messi’s deflected shot. He ignored Abate’s offside claim and soared past Abbiati calmly. Why did Abate choose to complain rather than go for a last-ditch challenge? I do not know.
Allegri showed his desperation by sending Pato on for Boateng, switching to a more aggressive formation. The Brazilian made one threatening run before being substituted by Maxi again. Obviously his muscle problem is still bothering him. Was it worth to give him a go under this pressurised situation? Arguable.
Thiago and Adriano missed golden opportunities to give Barcelona a comfortable three goal cushion, but AC Milan never looked like a side that could stage a comeback. Although Pique limped off with 20 minutes to go, and although Ibrahimovic showed how much he wanted to triumph at Nou Camp, the killing touch had just been missing all night.
Great tributes should still be paid to the Italians. Not until the final whistle had they forfeited, although Mexes had situated his passion in the wrong territory in the final minute. Nesta put in a strong performance in which might be his last Champions League quarter final match, notably preventing Messi from scoring in open play in both legs. Ambrosini also starred in both games in the holding midfielder’s position.
While an El Clasico Champions League final match-up is possible, the Catalans awaits their next opponent – be it the back-in-form Chelsea or the Portuguese-Manutd Benfica. After losing 0-1 in Lisbon despite dominating the match, Benfica will look to throw everything at Roberto Di Matteo’s men in Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
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