UEFA Champions League 2012: AC Milan keep Barcelona at bay at the San Siro
Barcelona and AC Milan drew 0-0 in a nailbiting Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza last night.
There were no goals but the action was fast and furious almost throughout. Barca had more possession before half-time, but could find no way through Milan’s well organised defence.
The second period was more equal and exciting but neither side could make a breakthrough and the result leaves the tie finely balanced ahead of next Tuesday’s return game at the Nou Camp.
With Thiago Silva injured, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri brought in veteran centre-half Alessandro Nesta, while Guardiola surprisingly left out Cesc Fábregas and stiffened his midfield with the more defensive Seydou Keita.
Milan should really have gone in front inside two minutes. After an un-typically lax Sergio Busquets pass Kevin Prince Boateng’s shot was blocked by Gerard Piqué and Robinho volleyed wildly over from just eight yards.
Barca soon eased into control of possession as Messi got going. The Argentine slipped taking a 20 yard free kick but the ball spun to Keita who miscued his close-range header. Moments later Milan keeper Christian Abbiati spilled a Messi shot only for Dani Alves to knock the rebound wide.
Xavi Hernández tapped a free kick short to Busquets who cleverly found Alexis Sánchez inside the area. The Chilean rounded Abbiati but had lost control of the ball before he was clipped by the keeper’s arms and Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson said goal kick. The Catalans had the ball in the net moments later but Messi was clearly offside as he tapped in Alves’ cross.
When Barca had the ball Milan were quickly retreating to two well drilled defensive lines and happy to foul to ensure Barca did not catch them out of position – Clarence Seedorf was booked for one particularly blatant challenge on Xavi.
The Italians remained dangerous on the counter. Seedorf’s excellent first time pass freed Ibrahimovic 10 yards out but the Swede scuffed his shot and Víctor Valdés saved.
Generally though it was Barca beginning to turn the screw. Xavi had one shot saved by Abbiati and another blocked by Nesta. Alexis thought he had raced clear but left-back Luca Antonini got back just in time to block. Xavi again and Iniesta sent long range efforts wide before Eriksson blew for half-time.
The second period began with Milan – led superbly by Massimo Ambrosini – squeezing further up the pitch and Barca having trouble building moves. When Messi did break the defensive line, Nesta was booked for an ugly challenge.
Milan were beginning to control the game and Guardiola withdrew Iniesta for speedy young winger Cristian Tello and Alexis for Pedro to try and regain the initiative. Allegri reacted by sending on Urby Emanuelson for Boateng.
Barca were back on top and looked most likely to nick a winner. Ambrosini threw himself bravely in front of Messi’s goalbound volley. From the corner Carlés Puyol’s diving header bounced just wide, although Eriksson might have whistled for substitute Djamel Mesbah pulling his shirt. Messi then wriggled free in the area but Abbiati saved his shot and Tello’s follow-up.
With the tension mounting Eriksson turned down penalty shouts at both ends.