Expecting to hold FC Barcelona at home on defense alone, AC Milan was always juggling hand grenades. And the fireworks were impressive. Within five minutes, Barcelona had opened accounts. By 40, they had leveled them on aggregate.
Massimiliano Allegri could be absolved of any wrongdoing in opting for the famed testudo formation. AC Milan had used it to great success in the 2-0 win in their home leg where the Italian outfit simply confounded the Catalonians and Lionel Messi and struck superbly on the counterattack. Milan even limited Barça to only one shot on goal despite having the lion’s share (73 percent) of the possession.
Milan could even be forgiven for playing the odds. In the group stages, Barcelona had scored more goals on the road (six) than at home (five) and conceded more at Camp Nou (three) than away from it (two). Up 2-0 and with history stating that no team had come back from this margin in an away fixture to go through to the next round, all Milan had to do was withstand the inevitable barrage.
Barcelona, however, is not a forgiving team. Nor one for odds. The loss to AC Milan at the San Siro on February 20 must have been as jarring an experience for them as the jerseys they donned for the occasion were to the match’s viewers.
The juiceless and often idealess FC Barcelona juggernaut was thwarted by the Rossoneri time and time again. The result was an anomaly. The match an abomination. Catching lightning in a bottle once was hard enough, trying it twice against a stung Barcelona merits psychoanalysis.
Barcelona’s staggering 85 goals in 27 La Liga games this season should have served as a stark reminder to their offensive firepower. So the parked red and black bus may have been predictable, but then so too that Barça would do what Barça does—adapt and overcome. And they did, battering the competition’s seven-time winner in the process.
For Milan, mounting a defense against something often indefensible must have been a daunting prospect. They managed it once. But where he had spluttered in Milan, Messi was splendid in Barcelona. The irresistible force that is his left boot cracked the immovable object that had been AC Milan’s defense. His master-class, top-corner strike and venomous low drive proved AC Milan’s demise.
Even had Milan decided to use attack as their defense, they would have needed to get the ball off the traditionally miserly Catalonians first. The 33-percent possession that they eked out wasn’t enough to give their beleaguered defense the respite they needed and only enough to create two efforts on goal.
Milan may have been guilty of allowing history’s siren song to woo them, but by digging a moat around their lead, Milan shackled themselves to their own cannons, because it is the same history that tells us that not many teams have etched their names on silverware when using blunt force to try to dull the keenest attack in world football.