Alessandro Nesta is God, Antonio Cassano is the devil off the ball - the lessons AC Milan must take from Barcelona epic

The 2-2 at Camp Nou was a moral victory for the Rossoneri, but there were also some key issue which arose during the 91 minutes between the visitors' two goals
By Carlo Garganese | Deputy Editor

In the end it was a creditable draw, rather than the landslide defeat that many had predicted AC Milan to be subjected to from their Champions League encounter with Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

Alexandre Pato's first-minute strike and Thiago Silva's injury-time header book-ended an entire game of almost constant home pressure, giving the Italian champions plenty to think about before the Matchday 5 return against the holders in November.

With 90 minutes of resistance comes great lessons, and while some heroics need to be praised, there is more than enough for Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri to ponder as he attempts to take the next step with his side in becoming a European force once more. Below we address a few of the issues which arose between that wonderful start and the glorious finale.


After a shaky pre-season and error-prone performance on Serie A Matchday 1 - where he was at fault in the build-up to Miroslav Klose’s Lazio opener - the knives were already being sharpened for Alessandro Nesta. The most common barbs thrown his way by the media were that the 35-year-old was too old, too slow, and should be replaced by Philippe Mexes as soon as the Frenchman returns from injury.

Nesta answered his critics spectacularly in the Camp Nou with one of the greatest defensive masterclasses of his legendary career to show that there is still life in the old dog yet. The World Cup winner’s anticipation and reading of the game saved Milan on countless occasions - including twice in the first half when executing crucial last-gasp tackles. But it was Nesta’s seemingly impossible lunge in the 55th minute to stop a certain Lionel Messi goal - following a trademark slalom - that was his moment of the match. You will not see a better tackle all season.

In what is likely to be Nesta’s final campaign before retirement, it is time for all football fans to cherish the greatness of the Rome native before he disappears into the horizon. This is football's worst defensive era for at least 50 years, it could be a long time before we see his like again.


Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has been questioned in the past over his substitutions - particularly during last season’s Champions League last 16 exit to Tottenham Hotspur - and he once again made a big tactical error last night when forced into a change.

After Kevin Prince Boateng was forced off injured on 33 minutes with a back problem, Allegri opted to introduce Massimo Ambrosini. This resulted in a three-man centre midfield shield featuring the ex-Vicenza man, Mark van Bommel and Antonio Nocerino, with Clarence Seedorf pushed into the trequartista role vacated by Boateng.

It has been proven time and again over the past two or three years that Seedorf is too slow in transition to play in the hole, especially when supported by three destroyers with no forward or lateral movement. The Dutchman is still an asset on the left of the midfield three - a position where he was pivotal in Milan’s second half of the season Scudetto run last term - but if Allegri has any intention of challenging for the 2011-12 Champions League he must not push the 35-year-old any further forward.


This brings us on nicely to Milan’s midfield in general. While the departments of defence and attack can claim to rival almost any other team in Europe, in midfield the Rossoneri are undoubtedly lacking a world class schemer who can really make the difference.

The purchase of such a superstar had been Adriano Galliani and Silvio Berlusconi’s main aim in the summer transfer market, with the chase for the mysterious 'Mr X' leading to speculation that one of Marek Hamsik, Cesc Fabregas, Gareth Bale, Ganso or Riccardo Montolivo - among others - would arrive to complete the jigsaw. For one reason or another, Milan never signed this superstar. Instead they snapped up Alberto Aquilani on loan from Liverpool and - in the closing hours of the window - Antonio Nocerino from Palermo.

The Italy internationals will provide the San Siro giants with more strength in depth  - which will help in their quest to retain the Scudetto - but neither are the 'Mr X' to take Milan onto the next level in Europe. Last night, Xavi and Andres Iniesta (until his injury) ran the show, and when Ambrosini, Van Bommel or Nocerino did get the ball they didn’t have the composure, skill or passing ability to do anything but nervously hand it straight back to Barcelona.


Until last night, 'Il Talentino' had started the season superbly for both club and country. On Friday evening, he was Milan’s man-of-the-match in the 2-2 draw with Lazio - scoring, assisting and hitting the post - while he has also been Italy’s talisman during the recent wins over Spain, the Faroe Islands and Slovenia.

However, at Camp Nou, Cassano was the flop of the match. The 29-year-old was rarely involved, and every time he did receive the ball he lost it almost immediately. When not in possession, his pressing of the opposition was non-existent. What is clear with Cassano is that in games where his team doesn’t enjoy the territorial advantage - or at least a roughly equal share of the possession - his usefulness is close to zero.

Cassano doesn’t boast the pace to be a threat on the break, and he needs to be dictating the tempo with lots of touches and team-mate interplay to find his rhythm. Long periods of inactivity hurt him, leaving him ill-prepared on the rare occasions he is actually active. Allegri would be wise to start Cassano on the bench in the return match against Barcelona if we assume that the Blaugrana will monopolise close to 70 per cent of the possession once again.

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