Barcelona stage glorious comeback
Messi leads the way with brace as Milan are put to the sword at the Camp Nou
Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Champions League round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and AC Milan at Camp Nou stadium
Date: 12 March, 2013
Venue: Camp Nou
Safety did not come until the 92nd minute but when it did it was glorious. Barcelona broke away, Lionel Messi found Alexis Sanchez and his curling pass found Jordi Alba screeching up the left, on one last run.
He controlled and finished to make it 4-0 to Barcelona on the night, adding to two goals from Messi and one for David Villa to complete an astonishing comeback. When the ball went in there was relief but there was also redemption.
This was a brilliant Barcelona performance, book-ended by a goal at the start and another at the end. It had been a long night and at times a nervy one too; it had also been a perfect one.
Opening up the pitch
Gerard Pique had talked before the game about the importance of opening up the pitch, circulating the ball with speed. “I’m certain that we will make many, many chances,” he said. He had also expressed his hope that Barcelona could score early.
He was right on both counts: there was an intensity and velocity about the start that has been absent from Barcelona’s performances recently and it took just four minutes for them to get the opener. Xavi’s pass was hit into Messi, hard and low. He took one touch to control and then, with no backlift, almost just with a flick of the ankle, he sent the ball racing into the corner. Christian Abbiati barely saw it. The Camp Nou erupted.
Milan were forced back, the game speeding past them, the space shut down as soon as they had possession. Sergio Busquets swept, Xavi looked fit at last. David Villa hardly intervened but his very presence changed the dynamics. Barcelona were a swarm. The pressure was back.
Dani Alves’s cross was headed down by Messi and Andres Iniesta’s shot on the bounce was superbly pushed on to the bar by Abbiati. The Milan goalkeeper then made another fine save, pushing away Xavi’s spearing shot after Iniesta had wriggled free with some maddeningly good footwork and laid the ball into his path. And all that inside the opening 20 minutes. Pedro was brought down again, then moments later he headed wide.
The discourse had been about how Barcelona could find a way to create chances and they were doing so; there was nothing sterile about their possession.
But lurking in the back of their mind was always the threat: a Milan goal would leave them needing four. Then Javier Mascherano misjudged it, M'Baye Niang ran through and struck a post.
Relief turned to joy
The relief was joy immediately; two minutes later Iniesta robbed Massimo Ambrosini, played it into Messi and he cut back and struck the ball hard and low into the near corner through the legs of Philippe Mexes.
Stick or twist? For all that they now felt in control, they remained on edge. It would take two more goals truly to calm the nerves. They got one of them quickly. Mascherano cut out a dangerous ball forward. His interception found Iniesta, to Xavi and then to Villa, who stepped inside and curled into the far corner with his left.Three goals. Still, they walked the tightrope but the platform, safety, drew closer.
The clock ticked on and legs grew weary. Barcelona were forced back and then in those last seconds, it finally happened: Alba made it four. Barcelona had made it.