Going into Wednesday’s match against AC Milan at the San Siro, Barcelona were the favourites to lift the Champions League trophy for the third time in five seasons. After defeating the Italian side at the quarter final stage last season, the Catalan club went into the tie in a confident mood, but a 2-0 victory for Milan leaves Barcelona on the brink of elimination.
Barcelona had the majority of the play in the first half, but found it increasingly difficult to penetrate a well organised Milan defence, and create any clear cut chances. AC Milan also fired off a couple of warning shots for their Spanish visitors, as Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng had first half efforts off target.
In the 57th minute, the deadlock was broken when the ball dropped for Boateng, and he guided the ball into the net to hand the advantage to Milan. This goal failed to spark Barcelona into life, and a couple of wayward free kicks were all that they could muster, before the tie was placed further beyond their reach. With 9 minutes remaining, El Shaarawy dinked the ball into Sulley Muntari, who volleyed home to put his side firmly in the driving seat for a quarter final place. Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura, who is standing in for the unwell Tito Vilanova, still remains ‘absolutely convinced’ that Barcelona will progress into the next stage. He said that ‘We have total conviction that in Barcelona we’ll go through’. He also spoke of his disappointment at the playing surface at the San Siro, claiming it to be ‘unworthy of the Champions League’. Defender Gerard Pique also refused to admit that the tie was over, but admitted that it would require a ‘magical night’ in Barcelona to see his side qualify.
AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri was clearly pleased with the defensive performance of his side, stating that ‘The lads played well in defensive terms and didn’t let them near our penalty area’. He did acknowledge that their passage into the quarter finals was far from secure, and that his team still need a ‘positive result’ in Spain to ensure qualification.
Although Barcelona have never overturned a 2-0 scoreline from the first leg of a European tie, they have gone one step further and overturned a first leg deficit of 3-0 on 3 occasions. Ipswich in 1977-78, Anderlecht in 1978/79 and Gothenburg in 1985/86 all held a 3-0 advantage over Barcelona, yet were eventually eliminated by the Spanish giants following the second leg. As recently as 1999/00, Barcelona turned around a 3-1 first leg Champions League defeat to Chelsea, eventually winning the home leg 5-1 after extra time.
In La Liga, Barcelona’s home record has been nothing short of sensational. They have won 10 and drawn 1 of their 11 games, averaging almost 4 goals per game in the process. 6 out of their 10 home league wins have been by 3 clear goals or more, something that they will need to repeat against Milan if they are to qualify for the next stage. In the Champions League though, they have not been as impressive in front of their own fans, defeating Spartak Moscow and Celtic by just a single goal, and playing out a goalless draw against Benfica.
AC Milan have lost just 3 games on the road in Serie A this season. Their current away form is impressive, with 3 wins and just 1 defeat from their last 6 away matches. Just one of their away defeats this season has been by more than a single goal. Their Champions League away form has also been impressive, winning at Zenit St Petersburg and Anderlecht whilst scoring 3 times in each game, and suffering a narrow 1-0 defeat to Malaga.
Barcelona’s irresistible attack had an off night in Milan, but they have scored enough goals at the Nou Camp this season to suggest that a comeback is possible. Should AC Milan score a priceless away goal though, Barcelona would need to score four times without any further reply to find themselves in the quarter final draw. It is a tough task to overcome a 2-0 scoreline against AC Milan, but if any side in the world can manage it, it may just be Barcelona.