Barcelona v Milan Post-Match Comments

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One good one bad. One half Max is aces, one half he’s folding like a lawn chair. Lecce 3 – 0 Milan at half, remember that one? Down 2-0 to Lazio? How about 4-0 ahead at halftime to Arsenal in the Champions League? Surely there are many other examples strewn throughout the Allegri era, but I believe the best context for this loss is not simply to say, “Barcelona were the best team what can you expect with a year zero Milan side” but “why?”

First, addressing M’Baye Niang – the answer “why?” is luck. Luck, kid, that’s what you need to be successful in this game. What is luck? Phrase it another way as Max Allegri did, “For a matter of centimeters, maybe if Niang had scored, we would be here talking about a different game.” But that’s not to say Niang is at fault. Look no further to Allegri’s boss Dr. Galliani, “When Niang hit the post, I understood everything. On nights like this, certain signals are crystal clear.” A bit pessimistic, but both these men are dancing around one point, and that is that when you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and when you don’t – you simply don’t. Milan had it at San Siro, but didn’t have it in Catalonia. Bojan was a bit more blunt than Galliani, “If the ball had gone in then the tie may have ended in a different manner.”

You can have the total package in football (Milan are nowhere near that), but without luck, it doesn’t matter. Had Alba not made a last-gasp tackle to deny Robinho, or had Niang’s effort not rocketed against the post (or even had the subsequent sliding handball by Dani Alves been called) Milan would have found themselves in the driver’s seat for the tie. For which again, then the question of luck would be around again – even a side such as Barcelona can’t deny fortune when it comes.

After Milan’s first leg victory (and that in itself is the problem – it wasn’t a victory it was a halftime lead) it seemed a mental error to treat the two leg against Barcelona as two matches. They weren’t, and as we’ve seen on countless occasions over the last couple years, Max Allegri got his tactics and preparations all wrong in the big match. Part of why he got his tactics right in the first leg explain why he got them wrong in the second leg.

I would break down the tactics more, but Zonal Marking did such an excellent job in this leg that I would risk just rehashing his main points ( I will a bit further in the piece), so refer to his piece for this aspect of the match. Here’s a brief recap: in the first leg, Barcelona struggled for width. Alves and Alba weren’t far enough up the pitch, and Messi had trouble getting into the game because he was both tracked by Mexes from deep, and Ambrosini from in front when he dropped to receive the ball. The problem came at “halftime”, when Milan found themselves with a 2 goal advantage over Barcelona heading into their leg.

Philosophically, they approached the game in limbo, caught in two minds of “attack/defend”. Sure that’s the basis of football, attacking and defending, but telling players to do both in an already confusing scenario was always going to lead to inactivity and hesitation. And indeed that’s what happened after Messi scored 5 minutes into the second leg. Look at shots of Milan after the goal, if you’ve access to the match. Heads drop instantly. Abbiati is furious and kicking the ball back into his own net. Barcelona are brimming with confidence.

David Swan pointed out that Milan simply conceded too early in the tie- and they were doomed after that. There’s a valid point to be had there. But Milan’s approach was one that lacked authenticity, lacked conviction, and lacked a belief at the end of the day.

Although I disagree with part of the point made by David, Milan had actually been here before. Abbiati, Mexes, Abate, and El Shaarawy all were a part of the 3-0 Arsenal loss last season. Add in Ambrosini and Boateng who were present on the 3-1 drubbing Barcelona gave Milan in last year’s CL quarters, and you’ve got 6 of the 11 members of the side who have big game experience, of late, in the Champions League, and who tasted heavy defeat. That’s more than half of the side, which against Barcelona is not enough. Of those 6 players with previous experience, it can be argued, none of them performed today. Abbiati watched more goals go past him than he has in any match in recent memory, not even making a dive on Messi or Villa’s effort. Also note, Flamini’s experience doesn’t count until he does something productive on the football pitch.

Flamini’s role was unsuccessful along with many other parts of the system because, in essence, Barcelona changed their game plan over he last 3 weeks, while Milan didn’t (stop me if you’ve heard this before). Milan had success pushing up Ambrosini, giving him a bit of a free role in behind a line of defense and line of midfield, and counting on closing down the space on the ball. Couple of things went wrong with this, Milan didn’t press with anywhere near the same intensity that Barcelona did, Milan’s outlet play was their worst in many seasons of my observation, and they no longer had the same match ups that they had in the first leg. In essence, Flamini would have been better off marking Xavi than Iniesta, but by no means was that the main issue.

Barcelona’s midfield didn’t flip, but Milan mirrored theirs, with Montolivo moving over to the left, and Flamini on the right. In the first leg, Boateng was influential on Iniesta, and his marking of him was tight and effective although he did often have a second defender in Riccardo Montolivo sheparding Iniesta away from goal. No such luck with Mathieu Flamini, who for the umpteenth time this season, has shown why he should not be resigned in June. Flamini’s energy would have been good in tracking Xavi, but on Iniesta, Flamini got lost in outer space trying to chase Iniesta around the pitch.  Montolivo ended up marking Xavi, both of whom are content to sit back, and so Xavi found more time to dictate play, spraying assists all over the pitch.

Barca’s most important tweak from last leg to this leg was to alter the way in which Messi received the ball. In the first leg, he often received the ball facing away from goal and had to turn, in which case Milan had 2 defenders waiting for him to make his move. In this tie, however, Barcelona used an extra wall pass from the front man, David Villa or Pedro, or sometimes even an advancing Iniesta to pass the ball to Messi so his first touch was already towards goal. This was the largest alteration, and Milan were still waiting to defend the initial pass into their defense, not realizing it was going to be the reflection ball to an attacker running onto them that would cause them issues this time.

I’m not going to knock Allegri further for his game plan. He made some errors of judgment (Kevin Constant to reprise his role on the left side turned out to be one of the largest mistakes, albeit one of the more obvious ones before the match) which cost the side, but I don’t believe at the end of the day Allegri is why the side lost, I don’t believe that anyone thinks that. But like other Champions League matches before, this simply shows what Max’s limitations are, and what he perceives to be important in the preparation for a match. You can see that he’s a familiar coach – he sticks to what he knows. Perhaps with good reason too, as his one notable risk today, starting M’Baye Niang at center forward, backfired on him and required an in-game tactical shift at the 33rd minute mark.

Of course, not to be forgotten, the reason Niang was starting in the center was because Balotelli was cup-tied, while Pazzini was for some reason started against Genoa (shades of the Thiago Silva Coppa Italia flash into view) and subsequently was hacked down by Portonova. By starting Pazzini vs Genoa, Max had made his bed, and against Barcelona he had to lie in it.

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Notes:

 

  • Barcelona’s pushing Alves up higher worked perfectly, as Constant did not have the composure to both track Alves’ runs with his eyes, and stay in position to not allow Messi inside.
  • Milan were content to let players in between the lines in the second leg, as in the first, however this time they were made to pay as Messi and Iniesta had men in front of them when dropping in between the lines this time, and this created the space they needed to operate.
  • Barcelona were absolutely on their game, and Serigio Busquets was everywhere. He recovered possession at almost every go, was positioned perfectly to provide stability to his defense and be near the danger zone, and his passing was second to none in the Barca double-pivot with Xavi once the tie started to dry up.
  • Milan were timid. They didn’t look ready to win the ball in 50/50 challenges, and often looked unsure of whether to step into space to deny or to sit back in position. In a larger sense, Milan were also unsure of whether to come forward to attack for the away goal, or sit back and defend their lead (which was answered in 45 minutes)
  • How important was the quality of the pitch? San Siro has been known for it’s notoriously poor surface (look no further than every European club to come in and complain). Camp Nou was a different story altogether.
  • One more, this side has actually been here before moments, as Arsenal scored 7 minutes in vs Milan in last season’s round of 16 tie, before opening the floodgates. Milan also were in a 4-3-3 that day.
  • El Shaarawy’s tracking was subdued during the match, and he seemed to be off the pace of the match for large stretches, especially defensively, which he was not his normal self.
  • Kevin Constant – ugh. The only thing as bad as his defending was his clearances. Welcome back to Earth after a few mercurial performances against mid-level Serie A sides. Doesn’t seem to be  the answer at LB. Better sides simply expose his frailties.
  • Barcelona scored 69 seconds after Niang hit the post. The tie, even when seemingly out of reach for Milan, was always on a knife edge.
  • Late on, Milan’s wingers tired, and Milan giving up, Barcelona’s wingers still managed to be the most fit players on the pitch, Jordi Alba’s lung-busting full-field run was magnificent.
  • Milan have never won an away knockout leg tie under Max Allegri.
  • At the end of the day though, this allows Milan to focus on the league (a very “Europa League” attitude) and claiming second place and qualification to next year’s tournament. I’m not saying the system is broken, but it just seems strange to me that qualifying for next year’s tournament almost always takes precedence to performing well in this year’s tournament especially once the knockout stages begin.
  • Milan take on Palermo at home next, the only Serie A side unable to record a single victory on the road this season.

 

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  • RossoneriFido

    Oh man were should I start.
    Sure no one expected us to qualify in the first place but wasting a 2-0 lead to lose by 4 is not acceptable.
    Count Max did not prepare the lads well enough for the game mentally imo.
    Sure having Pazzini would have helped us more in keeping the ball in Barca’s half but still.
    The players did absolutely nothing to prevent Barca from scoring. The players were nervous and did not stick to the game plan.
    No communication between our players.
    Ambrosini who played a huge role in the win played a bigger role in the loss. As whenever he intercepted the ball he ran with it thus leaving a gap behind. Instead he should have been calm and pass the ball to Montolivo who was absent until the last 20 minutes of the game.
    In the first match Barca paid the price for being arrogant and overconfident. Last night was our turn and we deserved it. El92 was so arrogant last night he didn’t want to pass the ball.
    Not a lot to say about the formation besides why Muntari did not start instead of Flamini.The problem was not preparing for the game mentally in the first place.
    And then we saw the Allegri we have been seeing for the past years. Unable to read the game where he should’ve subbed Constant for MDS after a bad first half. Milan had no idea what to do in the match. Lots blame the young Milan but they are mistaken. The ever lasting uncreative Allegri and his midfield are to be blamed. Bojan should have been in after the first half instead of Ambro where Montolays infront of the defense and KPB as a RM and Bojan as a false 9 which would have solved the lack of ideas and would have given us scoring chances. But like the old saying “you can take the girl out of the hood but you can’t take the hood out of the girl.” Allegri will always be Allegri no matter what pieces he have at his disposal.
    Lots say that the young players will learn from these situations this I have no doubt but Allegri will not learn.
    I would have accepted the elimination from Barca but not in the way it happened last night. Milan or better Allegri had no idea of what to do abd that says a lot about him
    Tbh I prefer a new coach for next year for Allegri will do nothing next year also with the players at his disposal no matter who .hey are.
    Now let’s focus on securing the qualification for next year’s UCL.
    Thanks Pete and Forza Milan.

  • Rafael Enzo di Fabregas

    Only thing we really could have changed was not going with the bloody 4-3-3 which is bound to leave such gaps. I don’t know why we didn’t compact the midfield with a 4-3-1-2 or the pseudo 4-5-1 of the 1st leg. Yes they used width correctly yet we had no certain advantage going head to head with Barcelona in 4-3-3, something that is lethal vs this team. Problem with the 1st leg was that Zapata had a good performance which transcended into Allegri keeping him as a starter. I’ve been saying for months that Zapata is by far our worst CB and worse than Danielle Bonera. His risky tracking up the field, dawdling on the ball and inability to switch a pass to a fellow CB is bemusing. I don’t even want to start on his positioning which compromised Mexes’ twice in a row. I don’t blame Constant as he isn’t a LB in the end along with Alves’ auxiliary winger role pressure was too much to take. Why Niang started as a CF was beyond me. It may be his natural position but he fell of the radar at Caen due to his inability to finish and raw movement around the box. Pazzini’s presence was now felt as Pazzo could have held the ball, pressed efficiently and at least finish a one-on-one. Flamini to me is the worst player in Milan alongside Muntari. Running, does not equal pressing or positional reference. I don’t even want to start on Muntari who was diabolical when he came on. How about Boateng’s lackadaisical reading of the offside trap or just how every player had a deer-in-headlights look?

    Truth is countless factors went against us. Barca’s continual losses and poor form against Milan and Madrid made them revise and effectively go “retiro” on themselves to find a solution to their form. It caused a brimstone of siege mentality to address their problems whilst instilling a sense of anger and desire for Remontada which was the theme of the week prior to the game. It caused them to wake up from their complacency caused by win after win along with inability to refresh themselves of the inertia from it. They weren’t sticking to their philosophy for weeks and yesterday they formed all of it together, all to release it at Milan, who weren’t capable of handling the motivation that transcended into intensity. It is the danger of having a lead in the first leg and carrying it onto their home. I knew something was not right from the start. Seeing the 100k people surrounding our 11 men in a vicious atmosphere followed by Barcelona players spraying passes around through a pristine pitch which suited their needs (not ours as evidenced by the squad underestimating the power of passes due to the fluidity of the pitch) fuelled by a sheer desire to overcome the insult of the first leg loss. I knew it a week before how the confidence of Barca players were truly real in which they knew that they could overturn the leg. It was evident by the unreal composure of their passing in tight spaces and foresight into opening Milan’ spaces for Alba and Alves to run into. Could any team really have seen those first two Messi goals coming? Was that even possible to defend? What could we have really done tactically to prevent such a disastrous turn of events? Was it really tactical?

    Fact is Milan weren’t prepared enough mentally. We didn’t used Barca’s fury and arrogance to our advantage along with their atmosphere in pressing them hard early in counter-attacking their initial pressure. The early goal was THAT crucial while the Niang rattling of the post, effectively rattled our whole squad into a mindset which was irrecoverable. This game was literally a Colosseum of who can withstand the mental pressure of their objectives and we failed miserably. There is nothing positive to take from such a match bar the experience of having of being decimated. Like last year, it will take time to recover from such a beating and it WILL effect our season in the negative aspect.

    I still cannot release this sickening sensation that was caused by last night, as a man who is such an amateur to depression and sorrow, this one hits hard. If you have 3 weeks of pure elation based on beating the best team of all time followed by crashing out in 90 mins in the most brutal sense, our mind is not capable of withstanding such a polarity in emotions. I praise you Pete for actually having the clarity to see through what went wrong, let alone the courage to write this whole analysis in which every word would be a reminder of yesterday’s utter collapse.

    Where do I even start?

  • Tanucc10

    “By starting Pazzini vs Genoa, Max had made his bed, and against Barcelona he had to lie in it.” You are a fucking Genius… I love your stuff man.

    “At the end of the day though, this allows Milan to focus on the league
    (a very “Europa League” attitude) and claiming second place and
    qualification to next year’s tournament.”

    I think everyone knows this team is not even close to where it needs to be in order to be considered a Champions League contender. Also that is why Allegri is still the coach, in many ways I think he may be the perfect man for this job, a limited coach for a limited squad Our midfield is atrocious, and our defense is suspect at best, I don’t think Mexes and Zapata are the answer, and call me crazy but I would NEVER sign Constant over the prospect of having De Sciglio on the left and Abate on the right.

    Tan

  • Sambit

    You have hit the nail right on the head. To summarize the match, everything that could go wrong went wrong including (but not limited to) missing Pazzo, incorrect tactics, absolutely zero luck and the best team on the planet showing up with their A-game.

    Pazzo was a big miss and both he and Allegri were very unlucky last weekend. That he played last weekend, showed that Allegri does not have a workable plan B to fall back on in times of difficulty (one of his greatest weaknesses). For the version of the 4-3-3 that is clicking for us presently, Pazzo and Balo are the only players on our roster who can play there. Niang can possibly play there in the future, but at this point of time he is not equipped to. The first expectation from a player in that position defensively is to channel the attacking opposition towards one side and Niang, Robinho, SES and Boateng do not do it. Looking back, Pazzo did it very effectively in the first leg which is why Barca’s full backs would get the ball near the half line rather than further forward and their play was easier to break down from there. In the second leg, Niang was unable to do this and Barca tiki-taka-ed till well inside our half and then released their full backs which proved absolutely fatal. Knowing Max, I suspected he would start Pazzo against Genoa and bring on Balo in the second half. In other words, I was mentally prepared for Pazzo’s injury before the weekend.

    Which brings me to tactics. Where do I start? The first thing that comes to mind is the attitude. Allegri mentioned in his post match conference that we tried to play from the back in the first half at the Nou camp and that created problems. This is completely his and Tasotti’s shortcoming. It is his responsibility to condition the players mentally before a game. In the first leg, we were very happy to clear the ball and make Barca play from their half, which over a period of time sapped their energy and increased their impatience. Why not in the second leg? Someone needs to drill some accountability into Max. Secondly, the one part of the tactics that seemed to work splendidly in our favour in the first leg was the choice of personnel by Allegri in midfield. Muntari and Montolivo are naturally left and right footed respectively, which makes it easier to cover the threat from the flanks. Plus they are positionaly the best available midfielders on our roster to slot in beside the destroyer at the base. Flamini completely unbalanced the entire equation. He is also naturally right footed meaning Montolivo needed to play on the left. Additionally, he is positionaly absolutely inept. The first thing any defender or defensive minded midfielder at any level is taught is how to effectively manage space. Flamini has no idea of space and how to manage it. Given that Barca are a team dependent on space, they must have been licking their lips seeing Flamini on the starting line up. Thirdly, the one thing we did not do in the first leg was lose possession in midfield or in our own half. Every time the ball was cleared, Barca had to start from at least the half way line with our entire midfield trio to navigate before having a shot at our back four. Wednesday’s match was disastrous in the way our midfield lost possession time and time again. Most of the goals came from these losses in possession as our midfield was out of position and our entire defence was exposed to the sheer pace of Villa-Pedro-Messi.

    We did not have Lady luck’s favor either. Everybody knew that one goal would be enough to seal progression but the goal just wouldn’t come. I hold nothing against Niang. He tried and it did not come off. It was a big moment and will serve him well in future. SES had a similar opportunity in the first half at the San Siro and did not score. He was not given any stick because we won in the end. Therefore, Niang should not be given any stick just because we lost out. I am sure he would have been heart broken at the end of the game but these things happen. Additionally, Barca got lucky. They got away with a hand ball on the rebound from Niang. As I said, these things happen and were a part of the entire tie. We shouldn’t give it a second thought.

    Finally, despite Milan not being well prepared and not playing well, Barca needed their A-game. Which is precisely what they brought on. The first goal was unstoppable even if we had 3 goal keepers. Just watching the replay exemplifies it. Firstly, Messi telepathically makes the correct run beating 3 players to the ball. Then he shoots it first time in order to beat Zapata and Mexes. And finally, he curls it with enough pace to leave Abbiati stranded. I mean, that is just the way a video game Messi works. You can’t compete against that. Period. Tactically also, Barca got it right. In the first leg, Messi did not have anyone reliable ahead of him to trouble our defense. This time, Villa and Pedro created havoc. Plus, slotting Iniesta along side Xavi without Cesc always meant that Barca would have a higher pace to their tiki-taka.

    All in all it was a very bad night for us. Gut wrenching-ly bad. But the entire tie was instructive.

    1. We are capable of playing well. Beating Barca without conceding is no mean feat. Even Mou hasn’t achieved that. Lets not feel too bad about the second leg.

    2. Allegri needs to grow up and fast. If we finish third or higher, he has done enough to see out his contract till the end of next season. That being said, we should part company with him after that as there is only so much we can achieve with him and European glory is certainly not one of them. He has a very misguided view of player’s skills and positions and therefore cannot take us to the next level with what he knows currently. Next season should be spent looking for his replacement.

    3. Our squad needs a further overhaul. Players like Flamini, Nocerino and Traore do not fit into the 4-3-3 being used. I would like to keep Robinho for some more time as we do not have a replacement for SES on the left. Bojan partially fits the system but is he worth the 14 million euros we would need to pay to keep him? I don’t think so. Unless Max finds a way to fit Urby into the 4-3-3, he should also be shipped out. All our centre backs need to go. Period. None of them have the pace or positional sense to play a 4-3-3. Yepes is probably retiring after this season. Bonera may also. Additionally, no point in keeping Antonini and Didac if they are never going to play not that I would play them. I would still stick with Constant at left back for next season as he is a visible upgrade on Antonini, Mesbah and Didac (our options at left back at the start of the season) put together but it will be nice to see solid signing for that position. Also, Ambro is on the last leg of his wonderful career. I would have loved to see him lift one more trophy in the famous red and black stripes but I think his time is up. And at 35, Abbiati is also not getting any younger. I will hope that we will be able to sign a top class goalie at the end of the season as Amelia is not at the required level. That makes 11 players at the very least. Almost half the roster. Galliani and Braida should have a busy summer ahead.

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