We all know too well that Barcelona can be a force of nature and that for now they are without question the Kings of European football. They have elevated football to a new level and founded upon the strong and composed defensive unit they have put together their more attacking options have become the envy of all clubs in world football.
Pep Guardiola has fashioned a side worthy of enormous praise and adulation not just for the results that his side have achieved but also for the way they that they have played their football en route to becoming the continent’s and in fact the world’s most feared side.
As it stands though, Barca have come away from the first leg of their Champions League quarter final in a position of genuine precariousness, as for the third time in this season’s competition they have failed to beat Milan.
Sure they still managed to get a draw out of their away leg, and sure Milan looked a totally different side when travelling to Arsenal in the previous round when compared with the ruthlessness and discipline they showed at home to the Londoners but Barcelona’s inability to find the net at the San Siro could well be a cause for significant concern and could yet cost them dear.
Barcelona’s dominance has been such over the past few years that they have at times seemed untouchable. When you think back to Wembley last year in the final of the Champions League and how they totally overwhelmed Manchester United for 80 of the 90 minutes and matched them for the other 10 you can’t help but heap praise on the side that Pep Guardiola has built and nurtured at the Nou Camp but this season has perhaps exposed a few chinks in their armoury.
The three successive draws against Milan aside, they have struggled to keep pace with Real Madrid in La Liga and at present they look set to lose their crown as Spain’s number one side even if they do overcome the Italians and go on to land another European success. They have been too sloppy and too often against grossly inferior opposition at times this season and perhaps there is fuel in the argument that complacency has creeped into a side, who have after all, been repeatedly told by almost everybody that they are invincible.
You could hardly level any suggestions of complacency at Barcelona on the night though against Milan, as they continually switched the play from flank to flank and probed in and around the opposition’s penalty area in a persistent attempt to find the elusive away goal which would surely have made them overwhelming favourites to progress.
There was no lack of effort and no lack of ideas but Milan were just about as good as any side have been at negating the threat of the Catalan’s undying thirst for stringing passes together and building pressure.
Time and time again, Milan made the right intervention, the crucial intervention, at the perfect moment. Whether it was an interception, a tackle, a save, or a block, the Rossoneri just seemed to come up with the goods every time and never more so than when Luca Antoinini demonstrated an exemplary bit of last ditch defending which thwarted one of Barcelona’s unusually low count of genuine clean breakthrough’s in the match.
Not only did they demonstrate phenomenal commitment and composure at the back but it would also be fair to say that Milan could even have won the game.
They too produced a couple of potentially match-winning chances and had it been for some more convincing efforts when the opportunity knocked then they could feasibly have been heading to the Nou Camp buoyed by a hard-earned victory rather than just the clean-sheet which, in itself, is more than admirable.
Though it may feel to them as if they could have nicked the tie and be going to Spain with the goals-advantage the Rossoneri must surely be satisfied with their efforts on the night.
Throughout the vast majority of the 90 minutes Milan were oh so organised in defence and proved to themselves as much as anyone else that it is possible to shut out their much vaunted opposite numbers. The chances they did manage to create must too be a sign of great encouragement for them as they head to the Nou Camp on a mission to de-throne the kings of Europe and they must believe that a fourth draw in a row against Barcelona is possible and with the shut-out on home turf already achieved they now know that a draw might well be all they need.
I personally still fancy the Catalans to progress but I only think they will manage to do so by a very fine margin and if I were a betting man then I would back Barca to come out as 2-1 winners at the Camp Nou but I do still harbour the belief that Milan are well set up to try and cause a massive shock.
They are blessed with having some very experienced players through the core of their side, which is crucial when taking on a side like Barcelona who play with such intelligence and cunning but they too have younger, stronger and more offensively able players amidst their ranks.
The likes of Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic may at times seem withdrawn or off-colour but their maverick and mercurial nature provides such a threat that they could really harm Barcelona just as they probably could any side in world football.
I can’t see the second leg of this tie doing anything other than exciting and perhaps even shocking a few people out there but whatever the outcome I am looking forward to the fourth instalment of the Barca-Milan battle this season with great anticipation. It is beautifully poised and that is what knock-out football is all about.