Thursday March 29 2012
The Art of Defending

Milan showed they could close down Barcelona with a great defensive performance that needn’t necessarily be ‘defensive,’ argues Susy Campanale.

When you are playing against the greatest team in the world, are missing your midfield filter, two quarters of your defence and the third quarter has a limp, you could be forgiven for expecting a thrashing. Instead, Milan’s performance against Barcelona was an impressive display in how to defend without resorting to catenaccio.

I will admit I feared the worst when the Rossoneri went into the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final without Thiago Silva, Ignazio Abate, Mark van Bommel, Alexandre Pato and the other crowd of players in the treatment room. It’s not a reassuring thought for the hobbling 36-year-old legs of Alessandro Nesta on his comeback from injury to take on Lionel Messi in spectacular form. How would Nesta keep up with him, we all asked? The answer was he didn’t have to. The wily old fox proved that the best way to stop Messi is not by chasing aimlessly after the shimmying figure, but to wait, observe and pick the right moment to pinch the ball off his foot. It was beautifully done and reminiscent of Franco Baresi in his later Milan years, when pace was unnecessary because he read the game in advance.

When rapid limbs were needed, Luca Antonini was there with perhaps his best ever performance in a Milan jersey. The full-back blocked at least two clear scoring opportunities with his perfectly-timed sprints back and sliding tackles. He fully deserved his UEFA Man of the Match award. Even Daniele Bonera and Philippe Mexes kept their cool, avoiding their traditional silly mistakes. It’s amazing to think this motley crew stopped Barça scoring in the Champions League for the first time since November 2009.

Christian Abbiati did seem to be unusually nervous and fumbled quite a few times, not to mention he was fortunate to escape without giving away a penalty for that challenge on Alexis Sanchez. Of course, one might excuse his worry considering the makeshift defence in front of him was on shaky ground – both figuratively and literally, seeing as the San Siro turf was falling to bits. I do wish casual viewers (and pundits) would stop suggesting Milan damage the pitch on purpose to hurt Arsenal or Barcelona’s chances. If anyone has suffered because of this playing surface, then it is Massimiliano Allegri’s slick passing side.

Milan defended diligently, but the performance was not what I’d call ‘defensive.’ Both teams created scoring opportunities and their strikers really should’ve done better. I am beginning to wonder if Robinho has some sort of medical condition that blurs his vision when confronted with an open goal. Maybe it’s like snow-blindness – the perfect clarity of the scoring opportunity in front of him prompts dizzy spells and confusion. I bet if you asked Robinho to shoot at an open goal or through a sea of legs, he’d only get the latter on target.

The fact remains that this first leg has left qualification wide open. Milan only need a score draw at the Camp Nou, which they have already achieved this season with that 2-2 result in the group phase. Perhaps some key players will recover for the second leg, or at least be able to play more than an hour. All three of Allegri’s substitutions were for players returning from long-term injuries. The 0-0 gives the Rossoneri hope, but also excludes the arrogance of thinking the job is already done that almost cost them so dearly with Arsenal.

If Milan really do manage to knock Barcelona out of the Champions League during an epic injury crisis with a completely reshuffled defence, then it’ll be an amazing achievement. After this first leg, it's not entirely out of the question. As wise old hand Clarence Seedorf said, “every side has a weak spot.”

Have your say...

you're not in the cl.
on the 3rd April, 2012 at 10:05pm
I am true Juventino, but hoping that Milan will beat Barca and I have two reasons for that. First to get points and move back italian footbal where it belongs, and to get little bit more tired in order to slip in Serie A and lose scudetto race.

Forza Milan! :)))
on the 2nd April, 2012 at 9:26am
The best defender was the pitch.
on the 2nd April, 2012 at 8:04am
sooooooooooo many bitter Juventini, your insides must be eating themselves with all this pure hatred. Milan may well get defeated at Camp Nou but anything else will be an incredible result for Milan, maybe people could open their eyes and see that? Bless.
on the 1st April, 2012 at 10:14pm
Look properly at the replay & you easily see that Sanchez had lost control of the ball. If he didnt dive over Abbiatis out streched arms the ball would have gone out for a goal kick. Sanchez knew he lost control thats why he went for the Nip & Tuck spring board dive. As for OLD MAN NESTA, what can we say? A master class of true Italian defending, Messi didnt know what hit him.
on the 31st March, 2012 at 10:19pm

yes! It was a pen. a cheap penalty that sanchez was looking for. Bravo to the ref for allowing the game to go out competatively. The shirt pull against puyol was more a one talking about that huh!

Milan will go to Barca with the laces tight and foot behind the ball to rattle the Barca net
on the 31st March, 2012 at 5:13pm
Result in the second leg will be Barcelona 1-1 Milan. Reason the CL is a tricky competition and winning back to back season is proving to be near impossible. Milan ad a good but not great side. That will come in the next 3 seasons. However, if I am right and Milan sent Barca out Europe be afraid for next season because Barca will play out of their skins to take the trophy back in 2013. Milan with all their injury problems and in a transitional period might just be destined to win the CL in 2012.
on the 30th March, 2012 at 10:07pm
on the 30th March, 2012 at 4:59pm
Milan have 7 champions league titles, only Real have more.

So all of you mocking Milan go stick that in your pipe and smoke it as your no where close to being as successful as Milan.

Football has cycles and Barca are currently the best, but Milan have the foundations to get back there. Bye
on the 30th March, 2012 at 8:53am
all you whatever fans on here commenting about the negatives about milan.. how about you appreciate the fact that they're still in the champions league right now representing the country and trying to go higher in the rankings.. also for the "people" commenting on the penalty, it happens and it was missed.. games over and if you are Barca and still complaining about a penalty then you definitely didnt deserve to win this match. Karma comes back to bite ya nowi.e xavi falls over in group stage
on the 30th March, 2012 at 3:49am

"...suffering of cramps before the match even started + were denied a clear penalty..."
how do you know?I thought you were enjoying the movies when we beat them.

I will enjoy Tuesday night.watching Barcelona mopping the floor with you.only till then you are still in cl.
on the 30th March, 2012 at 3:36am
Lol about the 3-1 Inter did, Barcelona had to come by bus from Spain because of the volcano eruption in Iceland and were dead tired, suffering of cramps before the match even started + were denied a clear penalty that makes the Sanchez one look like a joke... enjoy the freezing temperatures at -22 below us peeps...

This is the best result Milan could have hoped for after missing so many key players, period. enjoy the movies on tuesday night, we are still in champions league.. lol
on the 29th March, 2012 at 8:29pm
Milan defended brilliantly against Barca the best defensive performance of the season by Milan nesta and antonini didn't put a foot wrong all night it's a shame that Ibra and Robinho didn't put there chances away. Forza Milan for 2nd leg we can do it even though it will be tougher and I here that Barca made a complaint to UEFA about the pitch they didn't complain when they won 3-2 in the group stages did they
on the 29th March, 2012 at 7:57pm
I'm a Juve fan and I was incredibly proud of the way Milan went about their task last night, that was a performance of pure spirit and absolute class defending, everything that is right about Italian football was on display last night. Nesta is a force of nature and proof that class is absolutely permanent. Milan fans should be proud of their team and my fingers are crossed for the 2nd leg.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 7:42pm

This isn't a measuring contest and making assumptions about me being a Milan fan make your argument a fail right from the start.

I'm actually a die hard Inter Milan fan, have been since '97, but I'm not blinded by bias, I'll appreciate class any day: forexample I am a huge fan of (former Milan player) Kaka as well as many of the current Milan squad like Pato, Boateng and Inzaghi. You should take of your rose tinted glasses!
on the 29th March, 2012 at 7:10pm
Alright, to all you haters. With all the injuries we had(Thiago,Pato,Abate,Van Bommel,Cassano) and boateng and nesta just returning from injury, a draw with Barca is the BEST result we could have hoped for. Don't forget many were predicting Milan to get thrashed before the game. Inter fans, look at ur league position, and look what Moratti has done to ur club. The barca team u beat 3-1 was definitely amazing but they are better now(without ibra) they are at their peak since last season.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 5:54pm
I'm extremely confused about this "clear penalty" on Sanchez. Watch the replays people. He was stumbling and falling over anyways before Abbiati even touched him. Was there contact, yes, but a penalty? Enough witht the excuses, there are missed calles all the time. Milan's phantom goal a few weeks back??? It's over and done with. Milan played a brilliant game against the best team with a depleted squad. It's not over by a long shot but shut it with the penalty claim.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 5:49pm
Another biased/pro-Milan article...what a shocker...Susy should go be a Milan cheerleader when she is not writing these none sense articles. It is funny because Allegri made a mid-week comment that Milan will have to attack Barca and not play like Mou's Inter and defend! Yet, they had 30% possession and defended like crazy. I guess a 0:0 score is a much more attractive/attacking than a 3:1
on the 29th March, 2012 at 5:07pm
@ inter fan from texas

They say sanchez still orbits around the globe after hes giant
leap over abbiati.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 5:06pm
@ kazz

Clearly you didnt watch the game. Milan had several good chances.
Ibra? Robinho?
on the 29th March, 2012 at 5:02pm
aasim sit down and shut up messi is subliminal and is not arrogant. Milan fans need to stop thinking what they did was an art. drawing at home after being dominated is no Art. Barca drew with Arsenal at Emirate 2 - 2. Guess what happened at the Camp Nou. Barca pummeled them. Ive been to Camp Nou and San Siro and the pitch size is significant. Milan could play narrow at San siro. They cant at Camp Nou. They tried to duplicate Mourinho, but he won 3-1, he didnt draw.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 4:46pm
I think Nesta gave Messi a reality check! Defenders like him are no more and at 38 he's able to keep Messi quite is saying something. Imagine if Messi played in the days Nesta had R9 on a leash: no claims of greatness then.

Messi is just a product of overhyped media garbage. There is so little competition out there making it a walk in the park for the likes of Ronaldo and Messi to get near 50 goals a season, also helped by the fact that their team mates are also some of the best in the world.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 4:12pm
for you all who complain why was it deemed art, it was because milan never resorted to cheap kicks and tackles and the sort of anti-football during the match.

it was clean and proper defending, not seeing criminal's like pepe and khedira butchering all over the field.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 3:56pm
Can't trust a milan fan to tell the truth.

They didn't even try and attack at HOME?
on the 29th March, 2012 at 3:44pm
Apologies L'abanese I misread. If Milan have a fitter squad for the return it makes for an interesting match. Against a team like Barca you've got to play dirty and physical, much like Inter and Chelsea did. No complaints with how they conducted themselves last night, even though it WAS a penalty mistakes happen. I hope (for selfish reasons) the focus Milan need to gain for the return leg effects the performance this weekend.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 3:32pm
Barca missed the goal. That was it. Milan were extremely lucky.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 3:15pm
"If anyone has suffered because of this playing surface, then it is Massimiliano Allegri’s slick passing side."

Can you be a smart bias?
on the 29th March, 2012 at 3:13pm
Barca missed the goal...that was it. Milan were extremely lucky. PENALTY!
on the 29th March, 2012 at 3:11pm
I agree that Milan showed the art of defending at it's best last night. They kept Barca at bay while giving away a minimum of free kicks. They stood up to Barca, kept their concentration and created the better of the goal scoring chances. At most they've evened the odds a little for the 2nd leg It will be difficult but they've given themselves a chance and Barca something to think about.
on the 29th March, 2012 at 2:30pm
barca are unbeaten at camp nou for more than an year now and it is extremely difficult to score against them at camp nou,only 8 league goals. with the midfield milan have,i don't think they stand a chance against barca at cam nou. Robinho should have scored that sitter. the only thing milan can in 2nd half is to defend deep and well and pray!!
on the 29th March, 2012 at 2:13pm

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