So, the best team came out on top and needless to say deserved to go through.
All credits to Barcelona for actually showing up for what was touted to be their season defining match thanks to their recent slump, despite otherwise being brilliant all throughout the campaign.
Lionel Messi once again proved his doubters wrong, choosing the best night to remind us all why he is regarded as the greatest player of all time by finally breaking his duck (apart from the penalties) against Italian sides for the first time in 10 games and in some fashion!
Milan paid for what was nothing but their inexperience at this stage given the major overhaul last summer but they can be proud of actually pushing the best team in Europe until the very last minute of the entire tie as they pressed Barcelona into their own half for much of the second half in pursuit of that crucial away goal that could have seen them through. Who would have thought they were capable of this feat last October when they were stuck in the company of relegation favourites back home? Probably not even the biggest of Rossoneri faithful themselves, let alone the ones who did not even for one second give them a shot at turning around their season.
However, be not fooled by the magnanimous four goal drubbing as in defeat Milan have actually over the two legs exposed the defensive frailty of a side looking to re-visit the Wembley in May later this year in search of more glory.
One of the biggest comebacks in European history it may be, but you shudder to think what might have been had Niang not hit the post as he calmly strolled towards Victor Valdes with Barcelona leading by a single goal before Messi wiped out the first leg’s deficit soon after. Allegri was quick to quip post match that qualification was just centimetres away and you couldn’t agree more with the tactician, but Barcelona were absolutely clinical and Milan were not and that is where the tie was lost.
It was a terrible mistake from Javier Mascherano as he missed a clearance with his head letting Niang free on goal and he would be thanking his stars that it was just an 18-year old playing only his second ever Champions League game that too at the Nou Camp, and not a relatively experienced and better striker of the ball like Cristiano Ronaldo or Franck Ribery or maybe even the devastating pair of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze all of whom the Catalans may face once the draw is out on Friday. Not to miss out Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his troops, and Juventus with its very strong midfield who must have taken note of where to hit them hard as chances against this Barcelona side are few and far between and you have to be extremely clinical or risk falling prey to Messi’s class and his team’s absolute high pressing game.
|M'Baye Niang | The striker failed to score and hence kill the tie for Barcelona
Milan were clinical in the home leg, but very wasteful away from home letting in some soft shots on Victor Valdes when they had the chance to kill the game early in the first half but it’s a young side and such an experience against a side like Barcelona in the enthralling atmosphere of the Camp Nou will only help them in the future and that is what they should take home, not the score line. The real objective lies back home as they look to continue their rich vein of form and seal not the just a Champions League spot for next season but also a possible second place finish as Napoli are within touching distance with a direct head to head still to be played later this month.
The European honeymoon for the Rossoneri is over, and they bow out with their heads held high for their overall performance over the course of the two legs but for the Blaugrana, there is much to think about even though they once again go through to the next round like champions.
Jordi Roura has much to ponder about as Dani Alves is losing pace while tracking back season after season, Carles Puyol is getting old and cannot be trusted any longer against sides with blistering counter-attacking style of play, Gerard Pique has been largely unconvincing and Jordi Alba hasn’t really been stellar like Eric Abidal even though the former Valencia man has been prolific in the attacking third doing justice to Barcelona’s attacking play. He must be credited for the crucial tackle on Robinho late in the game. Javier Mascherano on the other hand resorted to last ditch tackles and was very clumsy against the likes of El-Shaarawy and Niang and could create problems for the team against more clinical and lethal attacks.
Barcelona chose the right stage and as David Villa rightly pointed out, returned to form in some style sending out a hard message to the rest of the contenders that they are still very much the team to beat, but the two legs have also proved that they are no longer invincible and if the attack and midfield leaves everyone in awe of their style, their defense makes them look equally clumsy which will be key against more prolific sides than Milan who were largely inexperienced compared to the Rossoneri sides we have gotten used to over the years.
But the Catalans showed tremendous character to stage a comeback of this magnitude and for that they have to be saluted and Messi has yet again proven why he is a cut above the rest. As for the critics (including yours truly), they will have to spend the next few days eating up the humble pie as a lot was being said about how Barcelona were finished.
They are not - far from it, infact.
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