As many pundits applauded Bayern Munich’s performance at The Emirates, a similar expectation surrounded Barcelona at the San Siro. However, a classic Catenaccio display has left the best team in the world with a huge job to do in the second leg.
Indeed, I would argue that Milan’s classic Italian performance was born in Glasgow earlier this season. Celtic showed that a severe lack of possession could still yield a positive result, as long as Barca could be shut down in the final third. Milan’s defensive discipline epitomised this, with the Spanish giants having plenty of the ball, but unable to carve out a meaningful opening in the entire 90 minutes.
Milan’s professional and enthusiastic performance has left Barcelona with an uphill struggle in the return. The experience of Mexes led a stereotypical Italian display, backed impressively by a hard-working midfield effort. On paper, few expected this from an AC side that is way off the pace in the league. Yet Massimiliano Allegri’s side stuck to their task admirably throughout, to provide an intriguing second leg that appeared unlikely.
Celtic showed that a disciplined defensive effort can thwart the space that Messi, Xavi and Iniesta can thrive in. While Celtic rode their luck at Parkhead, Barca barely had a meaningful effort on goal in the San Siro. Villanova may have been absent through illness, but he will have to mastermind a dramatic comeback if his side are to overhaul a 2-0 deficit.
Milan’s performance showed that they can do exactly the same in the Nou Camp. Their ability to break quickly – particularly through El Shaarawy – can help them turn this shock first leg result into a remarkable win over two games.
At the same time, Arsenal fans must be frustrated that their side was unable to deal with Bayern Munich in the same fashion. It may not be the most attractive style of football, but Milan’s classic ‘catenaccio’ display has gained a result that puts the Gunners’ defeat into perspective. AC go into the second leg with a genuine chance of progression, while Arsenal need a miracle.
Wenger must learn from matches like this, and appreciate that an attacking mentality against top-class sides is not always the correct approach.
AC Milan have not progressed yet, but they have given themselves an incredible platform to advance against the tournament favourites.