Facing the mighty Barcelona at home in the Champions League, AC Milan would need some stellar performances to triumph. Luckily, a couple Brazilian veterans showed Barca they can still produce magical moments. By Nate Davis.
Sunday night, many American football fans watched Peyton Manning return to Indianapolis to face his former team, the Colts. It was a moment that exemplified class as the game turned out to be one of the most exciting and dramatic of the year. Last night in the San Siro, AC Milan saw the return of one of their most prized sons, Kaka. While the Brazilian’s return was not as momentous as Manning’s – due to the fact he was not facing his former team, but rejoining them – the performance he displayed against Barcelona gave the Rossoneri satisfaction knowing they had their man again.
AC Milan came to the match rife with injuries, most notably their two star men up front, Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy. The polarizing Balotelli was present on the bench, but unable to start the match. Instead, manager Max Allegri opted to start Kaka and Robinho, hoping the Brazilian tandem would be able to get past the Barca defense. His choice paid off as Milan threatened the Blaugrana for most of the first 15 minutes, producing several chances to beat keeper Victor Valdes. One opportunity came to fruition as a defensive aberration from Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano gifted Milan the lead. Robinho played a back and forth with Kaka, whose pass back allowed the former to beat the keeper in the 10th minute. The goal was a product of Milan’s extraordinary effort in the opening spell of the match, as Barcelona was unable to find their tempo and hold the ball.
However, just as Milan was seeing the return of their man Kaka, Barca saw Lionel Messi return to starting fitness after a thigh injury sidelined him for the previous two matches. As expected the Argentine scored in the 23rd minute, displaying his famous balance after Milan left him so open that one would argue it was criminal. On a counter, Iniesta played the ball to Messi, who was bumped inside the box, but kept his composure and fired a bullet past the keeper. It is something we have come to expect from the four-time Ballon d’Or winner and the following result was predictable as well. The goal took any energy and life out of the San Siro as Barcelona finally found their dominating form, possessing the ball 72% of the match. It seemed the ever-tightening vice grip would produce another tally in the second half.
Kaka had other ideas, as he essentially played a makeshift fullback for much of the match, taking many Barca attackers off the ball. Milan’s only real chance in the second half was a pass through to Robinho that he either missed completely or he thought a teammate was to his right as he let the ball go between his legs and out of range. He was replaced by Balotelli soon after, but the Italian international was unimpressive. Barca had three or four chances to take the lead, especially on a ball from Messi to Adriano, who charged past the back line of Milan to just miss the target. The match ended in a draw, but the tension and surprising play of Milan made this match one of the better of the Champions League so far this year.
Moving forward, Milan can be optimistic, as their results in league play have been abysmal by their standards, but with Kaka now being the field general for Balotelli, Robinho and Shaarawy, they may be able to retain their Champions League spot in the table. As for Barcelona, more urgent issues are in play, as their last league match saw them draw 0-0 to Osasuna. It was the first time in two years that they have not scored a goal, and with Real Madrid coming to the Camp Nou this weekend, it is a blessing that Messi has returned.