How to beat AC Milan: what Barcelona learned from their first-leg clash at San Siro

After drawing blanks at the Giuseppe Meazza, the Blaugrana will be looking to take advantage of the lessons they picked up in the first leg to avoid a repeat at Camp Nou

By Martín del Palacio Langer | Spain Chief Editor

Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by AC Milan in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals last week. According to Pep Guardiola, the result "had a lot of merit considering the state of the pitch", but the Santpedor-born coach would undoubtedly have drawn several significant conclusions from the game that will help his side defeat the Rossoneri in tonight's second-leg clash at Camp Nou.

Here, analyses the various lessons that Pep would have learned last Wednesday, and how he can implement them to guide his side into the semi-finals of the Champions League.


In the first leg last week, Barcelona encountered a Milan defence that was much more impenetrable than they had anticipated. It was expected that without Thiago Silva, Milan would be fragile at the back, with the partnership of Alessandro Nesta and Philippe Mexes not only lacking the same astuteness, but the veteran Italian defender would become easy prey for Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Andres Iniesta. However, the Spain midfielder played too close to the middle while the Chilean failed to provide any sparks.

As a result, Barca couldn't destabilise their opponents and were content putting countless passes together in the final third of the pitch without really creating clear-cut chances. To solve this issue, it is likely that Guardiola will use natural width on the flanks, calling upon players like Pedro or Cristian Tello who can open up spaces for their team-mates to exploit in the middle.


Cesc Fabregas' absence in the first leg due to a back injury forced Guardiola to deploy two defensive-minded midfielders in the form of Sergio Busquets and Seydou Keita, neither of whom were able to contribute to the team's attacking play. To highlight the importance of Cesc, this season he has already chipped in with nine goals and eight assists in La Liga, more than Keita and Busquets combined.

At the weekend against Athletic Bilbao, Fabregas was rested as he continued his recovery ahead of the Milan clash, and his availability will allow Guardiola to mobilise a more attack-minded midfield. The only question that remains is whether Cesc will be at his peak, or whether he will carry with him the effects of the injury, which could prevent him from performing at his best.


As expected, Xavi was the architect for Barca in the first leg against Milan. The midfielder was as precise as ever, completing 113 of his 124 passes, well above any other player on the pitch. He also created the three best chances for his team-mates during the game. Unfortunately for Guardiola, his midfield talisman has not been able to train for the last two days due to injury, and his presence is in doubt.

If he fails to recover in time, the player who has been his chief understudy in La Liga, Thiago Alcantara, will take his place. But the youngster lacks the quality and experience that Xavi boasts, and it is without question a conundrum that Guardiola must resolve.


Gerard Pique has been heavily criticised in recent months, but against Milan last week, he played one of his best games of the season. The centre-back was the perfect antidote to the physical threat provided by his friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the Catalan nullified the Sweden striker for the entire game. His performance that night would have reassured Guardiola, but in the second leg, there could be a new challenge.

Alexandre Pato, who has been out of action for the past month, could be introduced to the tie by Massimiliano Allegri. The Brazilian is unlikely to start, but if he does play at some stage during the game, he could be a headache for Pique, who is not exactly known for his pace. Guardiola must have a solution in mind, such as switching the defence to a back three to take advantage of Carles Puyol's speed in the middle.


Dani Alves was a thorn in Milan's side in the first leg with his constant forays down the right flank, and the Brazilian became Barca's most dangerous player. However, in the second half Allegri counteracted by throwing in Stephan El-Shaarawy for Robinho while pushing Clarence Seedorf further up, and that minimised the effectiveness of Alves going forward.

Allegri could afford to make that change midway through the game because on Barcelona's left flank, Puyol rarely threatened in attack, choosing instead to remain largely in his own half of the field with only sporadic bursts forward. To prevent that happening again in the second leg, both of Barca's full-backs will have to contribute up front, but also remain solid at the back. This will allow the team to be more unpredictable in attack and give them a bigger chance of carving open what is expected to be a stubborn Milan defence.

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