“To have 17 attempts at goal on a pitch like this carries much value. San Siro is very complicated, it doesn’t breathe, there’s no sun, it is always very bad, but that depends on those in charge. I imagine that Inter and Milan don’t play on a field like that,” offered Pep Guardiola in reaction to seeing his side fail to score for the first time in the Champions League for 28 months.
Catalan based Sport, who argued that Barcelona deserved the win and that the only downside to the draw was the failure to net an away goal, described San Siro’s turf as ‘a cross between an ice rink and a cabbage patch’.
Mundo Deportivo may have dedicated some words to suggesting Jonas Eriksson’s refereeing was favourable towards the home side, but they too cited the pitch as most influential to the 0-0 result. In ‘copying’ Valencia’s favoured tactic at Mestalla of not cutting or watering the grass before play, they wrote that the Italians intention was to restrict the ball’s movement during the game and in turn hinder Barca’s tika-taka style of penetration. The pitch was alright for the Rossoneri because, as the publication argued, they played football like Jose Maria Maguregui’s Espanyol of the 1980s, a side known in Spain for its ‘airborne style’: “The midfield didn’t exist, all were long balls to [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic.”
Dani Alves, who twice markedly fell foul of the turf - once playing the ball straight out of play, another time losing his footing - offered his own comparison: “The pitch was disastrous, impractical. It was a potato field.”
Beyond Alves’ spills, there were other examples of Barca’s disharmonious experience - Lionel Messi’s slip when taking a first-half free-kick stood out, whilst a misplaced pass from Xavi Hernandez led immediately to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s strong chance in the second half. Notably, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol on more than one occasion struggled to move the ball from underneath their feet when put under pressure.
An official complaint from the club was handed in to UEFA, for which Milan hit back, suggesting that if it were a genuine problem, surely the players would have complained 24 hours before the game, when they first trained on the surface [pictured above].
Whilst a major issue in its own right or not, the attention the pitch has garnered post-match in Spain has meant that a side-point to the Blaugrana’s misgivings has become their performance on Wednesday night. They came up against an organised and determined Milan, whose Coach and his tactics made clever use of the components at his disposal.
Whilst the pitch contributed to the away side’s level of discomfort, it in itself was not the reason why Andres Iniesta was very quiet or that Messi could not weave a way through seven defenders or that the likes of Xavi had reverted in the final third of the game to taking shots from distance at uncharacteristically-non-Barcelona moments.
Guardiola came out with the line: “The best compliment is that Milan are happy with the result.” Perhaps the best compliment to Milan is that Barca are distinctly unhappy and, encouragingly, that the main reason why - being the Rossoneri’s performance - has generated the least discussion post-match.