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Barcelona showed character to comeback in such stunning fashion and secure a 4-0 victory but the tie was always in the balance thanks to the away goal rule..

 Brendon Netto
 Comment | Europe
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Barcelona's 4-0 victory over AC Milan on Tuesday night is one that will live long in the memory of the Camp Nou faithful. Following a 2-0 defeat at the San Siro in the first leg, history was against the Catalans as the current lot had never staged a memorable comeback.

It was a vintage Barcelona performance, they had Milan's defense scrambling from the onset. Lionel Messi silenced his critics with two sumptuous strikes, the first of which set the tone for the comeback with just five minutes played. His brace emphatically disposed of the criticism against him for his failings against Italian sides; a stat that was never anything more than a coincidence and so he proved.


Messi was sensational

What's most admirable about their phenomenal comeback is the fact that they did it 'their way'. After being stifled in Milan, critics condemned the La Liga leaders for lacking a plan B. It seemed like they needed something different than their tried and tested 'tiki-taka' system that just wasn't paying off at the time. In the return leg, they persisted with their philosophy and they reaped the rewards although there were a few other factors that worked in their favour.

The pitch at the Camp Nou resembled a billiard table and was a far cry from the patchy surface they had to make do with in Milan. It was tailor-made for the quick passing essential to their style of play and there's no doubt that it made a telling difference. Of course, when in pursuit if a remarkable comeback, the chants of nearly a hundred thousand of your supporters spurring you on is a massive boost.

The decision to play David Villa in place of Cesc Fabregas was pivotal. It allowed Andres Iniesta to drop back into midfield and partner Xavi Hernandez which made a huge difference. While Fabregas and Iniesta got into each other's way at times at the San Siro, the latter was instrumental in creating opportunities for the hosts last night, primarily because he had the freedom to do so. The Ballon d'Or finalist was responsible for little pieces of brilliance right before the chances presented themselves. He played a huge role in his side's build-up play albeit subtly so much so that he was never likely to be credited by many for his performance just beyond the spotlight dominated by Messi.


Playing Villa was the right move

Villa's addition also offered Messi the freedom he needed to influence the game. People will heap praise on the Argentine for single-handedly responding to his critics and producing a match-winning performance but his team-mates, Villa in particular, helped him out and mind you, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Villa often positioned himself centrally to occupy the centre-backs which allowed Messi to drop into space between the lines where he was able to receive the ball, turn and attack Milan's back-line.

The former Valencia striker's movement along with that of Pedro's helped move the Milanese defense around. While their full-backs held their ground and kept the back four compact in the first leg, the runs from Villa and Pedro exposed them this time around. Ultimately, Villa's sublime finishing also came to the fore when he produced a classy curling effort with his weaker left foot for the all-important third goal.

To a certain extent, Milan played right into Barcelona's hands. Although they set up in the same shape, their approach was nothing like it was in the first leg. At the San Siro, they stayed compact as a unit and closed down their opponents fervently once they threaded into their half but at the Camp Nou, they sat deeper and deeper, inviting the home side onto them.

A feature of their victory in Milan was the composure with which they kept the ball when they won possession. They didn't have a lot of the ball but when they did win it, they were able to string a few passes together and make them count with Riccardo Montolivo in particular orchestrating proceedings. In the return leg however, they regularly surrendered possession cheaply thereby committing the cardinal sin when facing the Blaugrana.


Milan needed to keep the ball better

It was only in the final 15 minutes that the visitors decided to keep the ball better and show more ambition in attack albeit out of necessity and it nearly paid dividends. There were a few disastrous performers for the Italians as well with Kevin Constant and Mathieu Flamini in particular giving the ball away frequently while being clumsy with their tackles as well.

As mentioned earlier, Barcelona did this 'their way' and while that constitutes their gallant attacking display it also involves their trademark nervy defending. Despite their timid attacking display, Milan were still able to counter a couple of times in the first half and could count themselves unfortunate when M'Baye Niang could only hit the post when he was one-on-one with Victor Vades moments before Messi scored the second goal.

The two center-backs were caught up the pitch and Niang was able to break free and storm into the space in behind them. Five minutes from time, Milan's pressure was nearly rewarded when Robinho sneaked in at the near post to latch on to Bojan's cross but Jordi Alba was alert to the danger and did magnificently to intervene with a last-ditch tackle that blocked the Brazilian's effort.


Barcelona showed character

Because of the away goals rule, Milan were still in with a shout right up until Barcelona's fourth goal in injury time. Even though their nervy defending cause them a few problems, the Catalans had the character and resolve not only to hold out but to make Milan pay for a poor free-kick and kill the game off when the sensational Alba scored a much deserved goal.

Barcelona sent out a strong message across Europe with this performance but Milan still played their part in the first leg to prove that the Blaugrana aren't as invincible as they may seem. Nevertheless, this will go down as one of the best comebacks in the Champions League and for once, Barcelona blew us away with a 'fightback', something they've not been accustomed to in recent years.

What do you make of Barcelona's comeback? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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