25 Goals & Another Match-Winning Assist - Lionel Messi Stars In AC Milan Win To Show Why Barcelona Aren't Missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Argentine scored a penalty to net his first official goal against an Italian side and created the winner for Xavi as Barca took risks to win all three points at San Siro
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

It is often said that fortune favours the brave. And it's logical, too. Barcelona endured some difficult moments at San Siro on Wednesday night, but ended up on the winning side of a thoroughly absorbing contest.

AC Milan had visited Camp Nou with much less ambition in September and somehow escaped with a point following a 2-2 draw. That remains one of two games Barca have failed to win at home this season, and the Catalans are yet to lose anywhere in 2011-12. They rarely looked in danger of doing so here.

Coach Pep Guardiola surprised just about everyone by naming a three-man defence, especially because in it, there was no Gerard Pique. The stylish centre-back had been expected to start and was earmarked as the man to stop former team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with whom he was once linked romantically after the two were pictured in an intimate pose, due in part to his height and aerial ability.

Guardiola, though, had other ideas, and while setting off with Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano and Eric Abidal at the back allowed Milan's attackers added space up front, it also gave Barca an extra man going forward.

Ibrahimovic netted one very well-taken goal and was a real point of reference in the Milan attack, but he was unable to have the last laugh against his enemy Guardiola and despite his considerable talents, he still doesn't look like the right style of player for Barca even now.

In mint condition | Messi (left) celebrates with his team-mates

Barca have Lionel Messi, anyway. The brilliant Argentine scored Barca's 100th goal in the Champions League under Guardiola and netted for the first time in official matches against an Italian side as he converted from the spot, albeit after his first effort was retaken because of his illegal 'paradinha' dummy.

That's 25 goals now for the 24-year-old and it's still only November. Last season's total of 53 now looks well within reach, but there's so much more to Messi's game than goals, as he showed by releasing Seydou Keita for the pass which led to Barca's first, an own goal by former team-mate Mark van Bommel, and later set up Xavi for the winner. He also rattled the bar.

Guardiola now claims his side will focus on the forthcoming Club World Cup in Japan, (although his side also face Madrid in the Clasico before that, on December 10). The last time Barca won the club competition in Japan, Ibrahimovic was at the club as well, but on this evidence - and although he remains one of the world's finest footballers and appears less of an individualist since leaving Camp Nou - Barca won't miss the Swedish striker. Because since he left, almost everything has gone right for the Catalan club. And much of that is thanks, as ever, to Messi.

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