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UEFA Champions League
October 23, 2013
• Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milano
Referee: F. Brych
• Attendance: 74487
L. Messi 24'
That's my cue folks, it's been a pleasure. Bye for now.
A match that never really got off the ground, but in the end, both sides won't be too disappointed with a point apiece. Robinho's early goal was cancelled out by Messi, but after some huffs and puffs, neither team managed to blow the house down one more time. Barca stay top of the group, with Milan in hot pursuit in second place, two points behind.
90' + 4'
The referee has seen enough! Full time!
90' + 3'
Messi onto the ball in the centre circle, but Milan are not going to let it slip at this late stage. No less than three Rossoneri players surround the Argentine, and muscle him off the ball forcefully.
90' + 2'
Alves takes matters into his own hands with a stinging drive from 30 or so yards out. It's too hot to handle for Amelia, but only for a second, as the keeper touches the ball in a safe position for him to smother.
Three minutes of added time to go at San Siro.
Messi is trying to alert the referee to the gamesmanship of the Milan wall, which has inched well inside the imaginary 10-yard circle between them and the ball. The ref instructs the Argentine to get on with it, and he duly fails to get the ball over the line of Rossoneri bodies.
Dangerous free kick for Montolivo to give away! The Italian midfielder catches Fabregas just as he was about to slip by him, and Allegri is furious on the sidelines. Montolivo avoids another booking, but a threatening chance for the Catalans.
All hands on deck for Milan as we enter the final five minutes of this game. They're absolutely exhausted, but have to dig deep for the home stretch with Barca continuing to apply pressure through possession.
CHANCE! Busquets is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and robbed of the ball by De Jong. Muntari laps up the scraps at the top of the box, but with the Barca defence sliding in front of him in a bid to stop the shot, he can only squeeze in a powder puff effort that Valdes smothers. After a second glance, the referee signals for an infraction anyway.
Pedro has slipped in rather unnoticed for Neymar for Martino's second change.
Yellow Card Cesc Fàbregas
Poli in and the ineffective Birsa out for the final stretch. Fabregas also sees yellow for a little petulant kick out at Mexes, showing his frustration as a perceived infraction by the French defender.
Muntari cautioned by the referee after one too many fouls, the last one coming on, you guessed it, Busquets. The ball in from Messi is a good one, and Fabreas tries to angle a backwards header on target, but can't find his range.
Yellow Card Sulley Muntari
If I'm honest, the match is dying a slow death. Barca's cutthroat intensity around the box has shriveled up somewhat, as they seem happy to pass the ball into oblivion and back across the opposition half. Milan buckling down for the final stretch, but perhaps both sides have subconsciously taken a point from this encounter.
Constant, quietly impressive throughout, sticks with Dani Alves all the way in a tussle on the right flank, and eventually wins out against the Barca right back through sheer will.
Alves hauls back Constant in his haste for the ball, and is pulled up immediately by the referee. He avoids a booking at the last moment, only a warning this time. Meanwhile, Martino has thrown Cesc into the fray for Sanchez.
Urby Emanuelson meanwhile, has come on for Kaka. An inconspicuous end to a rather flat game for Kaka. Emanuelson immediately makes his presence felt by fouling Busquets.
ADRIANOOOOO! Nearly a smashing breakthrough! A mouth watering pass from Messi over the top fools the entire defence, and is wafted perfectly into the path of the streaking full back at the near post. His first touch sets up the volley but he slices the finish badly off the side of his leg!
That's more like it from Milan! Constant and Balotelli link up, with the substitute dropping deep and facilitating Kaka at the top of the box. The Brazilian takes aim right away, but Valdes read it all the way, and saves.
Balotelli, by the way, is tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for the most attempts on target this season in the Champions League, with 10 (via Uefa).
Balotelli meanwhile immediately takes his place as the spearhead of Milan's front three. He'll need to put in a shift off the ball though, as his side are struggling badly for possession here.
Balotelli in, and Robinho is sacrificed. It was either going to be hm or Birsa. The Brazilian has been abject and invisible since briefly promising a breakout game after his early goal. Frustrating Robinho? Milan fans are nodding their heads grimly in agreement.
Milan toss away the ball and see another foray forward end almost as quickly as it began. The Rossoneri have no plan in attack, and Robinho and Birsa have gone M.I.A. since the opener. Maybe this will cheer up the Rossoneri faithful - Balotelli is primed and ready to go on the sidelines.
Just over an hour gone, and we're still no closer to another breakthrough. Barca are still running the show, monopolizing possession, but Milan have shown a modicum of improvement since their by-standing end to the first half. There's definitely a mistake in either backline, so really, the real question is who can force opposition errors into play!
Muntari can be a little unhinged when he's ready, and he nearly deals some serious damage to Busquets, who goes flying after being caught by his trailing leg. Even with the thespian reputation of the Catalan midfielder, that still probably hurt like hell.
That was a close shave for Barca. Montolivo pounces on Adriano's dally, and instantly squares to Kaka on the top of the box. Had the Brazilian lifted his head, he would have seen Muntari in acres of space on the left hand side, but as it was, he tried some sort of shimmy that doesn't fool Pique, and Barca clear.
And just like that, Barca nearly make Milan pay. Lightning quick are Messi and Xavi at the top of the box, too quick for Milan, and the latter slips in Iniesta through on goal. The pint-sized maestro never gets a hold of the shot though, and flops in a daisy cutter that Amelia is able to parry!
What the hell Robinho?!?!?! Muntari was fantastically resourceful on the left, digging out a curling cross that takes Dani Alves out of the equation, and connects perfectly with Robinho's run into the six yard box. But the Brazilian, from point blank range, is all elbows and heels, mis-controlling a ball that was begging to be smashed in! Whoops...
Iniesta sizes up his options at the top of the box, and out of the corner of his eye, sees Sanchez streaking through on the left. He nearly threads the needle, but Constant read him all the way and made an fantastic and vital interception!
Xavi with a sublime touch to instantly free himself of two Rossoneri shadows. Excellent football. It's the little things that make it all worthwhile.
No changes to report at half time, more surprising from Allegri's reckoning than anything. Balotelli cut a lonesome figure in the tunnel during the break though, looking rather restless and eager to get involved. Not a huge punt to wager that we'll see Balo at some point, especially if Birsa continues to stink out the joint.
Here we go again! Milan restart.
After much buildup, this game has evolved in a manner that few would have wanted, but many would have expected. The elation of Robinho's early opener was cut out relatively quickly by Messi's leveler, and since then, Barca have been in control, probing and prying at a camped and cautious Milan side. If that pattern continues in the second half, then you'd have to fancy the Catalans to eventually get that breakthrough. Milan need to find their mojo again, and fast. Stay tuned for the restart in just a bit.
45' + 1'
The referee signals for the break after only a few seconds of injury time.
NEYMAAAAR!!! A fantastic chance to break the deadlock right at the end of the half! Zapata initially does well to leap above Messi and nod away a flighted ball, but it breaks perfectly for the Brazilian on the left side. He attacks it first-time with a volley, but angles it just the wrong side of the post!
Montolivo sees his name in lights for just a second, and with that rush of blood to the head, takes aim from 35 yards out. Ambitious effort, but no need to dwell to long on that, off target considerably.
On the flip side though, Barca really need to make all this possession count. This is far from an irregular directive for the Catalans, who face this type of stifling play every single week. Milan don't look all the way secure, but lesser sides than the Rossoneri have stolen points off the Blaugrana from this exact strategy of patience and penetration at the opportune moment.
Yellow Card Riccardo Montolivo
Allegri's demeanor has changed. No longer excited on the sidelines, he looks instead like he's been given some terminal news. It's becoming an increasingly tenuous exercise for his side. Everybody from Milan has planted their flag back in their own half to congest and constrain the opposition.
Just like that, Sanchez nearly breaks the monotony of metronomic possession, running inside Zapata and flicking Xavi's long pass on target, but Amelia positions himself absolutely perfectly to make sure that the effort was nothing more than a spoof.
The San Siro faithful getting very restless in their seats as Barca continue to lurk around the Milan penalty area, like a shark circling his prey in the ocean deep. There's nothing going in attack for the home side, they're on the wrong end of a pitch-wide game of keep-away.
Sanchez becomes our first booking of the game. A valiant effort from him to track back and keep pace with Kaka, but he only succeeds in upending the Brazilian on the run.
Yellow Card Alexis Sánchez
What seemed like a ball into oblivion from Dani Alves is suddenly chased down by the electric Messi. Poor Abate nearly wet himself at the Argentine's sudden appearance, and it takes a reflex block from Zapata to stop his bouncing volley from an acute angle.
Mexes throws away a fantastic chance to get Milan back on top. From a Robinho corner, the French centre back gallops into a free header, but plants it the wrong side of the post. He can't be wasting chances like that!
The game now unfolding at a more understandable pace for regular watchers of the Catalan side. Milan sitting deep as the Catalans plot and pick at little gaps in their ranks, trying to find that killer route through to Amelia. Which, by the way, is all a complete disaster for the Rossoneri, who have thrown their earlier game plan out the window for whatever reason.
I was waxing lyrical about the Rossoneri earlier, but they deserve just as much stick for allowing that goal to happen. Sloppy, reactionary defending all around, and they committed the unforgivable sin of leaving Messi all alone on the right wing.
Assist Andrés Iniesta Luján
Goal Lionel Messi
Some real lax, one-dimensional defending from the Rossoneri, who cough up the rock in the middle, giving Iniesta the invitation to slide a pass through to Messi, flanking on the right. Leo has two men to beat in the box, but despite a few stumbles and bumbles, he manages to arrow a crisp finish into the bottom corner!
MESSI TIES IT UP!
For those unaware, Felix Brcyh called Leverkusen's game against Hoffenheim on Friday, and awarded a goal for a Stefan Kiessling header that had only hit the side netting. B04 won that game 2-1, and Brych has been in the blender ever since.
Messi shows some cheek, trying to squeeze the set-piece in at the near post, but it hits the side netting instead. Felix Brych awards a goalkick, you can be sure he won't ever make a mistake on that call again after events in the Bundesliga this weekend.
It looked like a positive overlapping run from Neymar onto Adriano's feed, but the Brazil sensation is isolated, completely isolated on the left. He works the ball to the opposite side, where Kaka gets slapped for a handball on Dani Alves' cross attempt.
Milan just taking a lean back on the recliner for the moment, allowing Barcelona to do their tiki-taka bit in their half. It's painfully clear that the Rossoneri are going to blitz them on the break when they can. Hey, it worked for the opener, it can work again!
Allegri looks like the happiest man alive after watching an excellent opening quarter of an hour from his team. It seems a yearly tradition in Italy for him to be under the noose at the start of the season, but this will do his job prospects a world of good. Still plenty of time left though.
It's all so casual and indifferent from the Catalans, who look like they strolled into the San Siro by accident. They finally manage to hold the ball in the opposition half for more than a beat, but are totally overwhelmed by the tenacity of Milan at the back.
Barca really need to be doused with a bucket of ice, or maybe a few slaps to the face. They're letting Milan trample all over them, and can have absolutely no complaints about falling behind.
You can't say it's not been on the cards, but what the hell were Pique and Mascherano doing! On a harmless ball, the Argentine kicks the ball off his defensive partner. Comedy ensues as Robinho steals the ball, spreads to Kaka, continues his run into the box and strokes his compatriot's return pass into the back of the net!
NO MATTER, BECAUSE MILAN SCORE ON THE NEXT PLAY!
Robinho fakes a shot in order to squeeze a reverse pass into Muntari, who likewise does just enough to inch a shot under Valdes! But it's chalked off, as the Ghanaian was a shoelace offside. Agony and disbelief in the stands.
Kaka makes an absolute meal out of a little forearm shiver by Adriano around the halfway line, and the referee buys it hook, line and sinker. Free kick to the Rossoneri.
The fans are getting behind Milan, who look up for the bout tonight! They've made a strong start to the game, depriving Barcelona of the ball and trying to pick the lock through the centre!
Birsa takes charge of the delivery, but he's on a different wavelength to the rest of the Rossoneri, and sends it over the head of anyone relevant.
Barca have their early possession streak broken in two by Muntari, and Robinho quickly releases Kaka on the left! The Brazilian, to a steaming roar, squares up to Dani Alves, who blocks the cross with his chin! Corner.
Strap in folks! Barca get the ball rolling!
Here come the teams! After lining up for the anthems, they pass a "Say no to racism" pennant down the line of players. The pre-match formalities have just about been wrapped up, and we're ready for the jump...
Fantastic scenes on the San Siro's south stand, as some incredible collaboration between the Rossoneri fans sees a massive message read: "Keep Calm and Always Fight!"
The tension and anticipation is simmering nicely inside San Siro. Pretty much a packed house here, as the supporters await the emergence of the teams from the tunnel.
Barca currently rule the roost in Group H with two wins from their opening two games. Milan sit second with four points, and you get the feeling that this will be the Rossoneri's best chance to stake their claim for top spot in the standings. But with their injury woes, and Barca at near full strength, perhaps this game has come too soon for Massimiliano Allegri and his troops. It's hard for me to see them taking full points here, perhaps a draw if they play on full throttle.
Lionel Messi has been ruled fit enough to start, after his 22-minute cameo against Osasuna on Saturday that still failed to lift the Catalans above a 0-0 stalemate. Two games in three days is too much for fit-again skipper Carles Puyol though, who has been rested from the squad entirely following his exertions in Pamplona. Javier Mascherano, himself making a first appearance after a month out for a tweaked hamstring, will partner Gerard Pique at the back.
Marco Amelia makes his first appearance since April between the posts, while the onus up front falls on the enigmatic Robinho, ably supported by Kaka and new San Siro hero Valter Birsa, who scored the lone goal of the game against Udinese over the weekend. The Rossoneri in paticular will hope that Kaka can shake off his hoodoo against the Blaugrana, as the Brazilian has failed to score in 11 games against the Liga giants.
The Rossoneri have been patched up with duct tape and super glue, with a number of their familiar faces M.I.A. from the starting XI. Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini and Christian Abbiati all sit out tonight's game, while Mario Balotelli is only fit enough to sneak onto the end of the bench.
BARCELONA: Valdes, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano, Daniel Alves, Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta, Busquets, Alexis Sanchez, Messi, Neymar. SUBS: Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Fabregas, Song, Pedro Rodriguez, Tello.
MILAN: Amelia, Mexes, Zapata, Abate, Constant, Muntari, Birsa, Montolivo, De Jong, Robinho, Kaka. SUBS: Coppola, Silvestre, Poli, Nocerino, Emanuelson, Matri, Balotelli.
Right, onto our first port of call, the full teams for tonight's clash.
Greetings all, and welcome to San Siro, for the droolworthy heavyweight clash between Milan and Barcelona. I'm Keeghann Sinanan, your designated scribe for tonight's spectacle.
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