Lionel Messi marked his return to the Barcelona starting lineup with an equalizer against Milan, but the Catalans were unable to turn their dominance into a victory at the San Siro. The Argentinian star returned as a substitute in the goalless draw at Osasuna at the weekend, but, despite being on target, Barcelona were again largely contained going forward.
Still, coach Gerardo Martino will feel his team should still have done enough to win the match and will lament the defensive howler that led to Milan taking the led just nine minutes in. Barcelona’s equalizer arrived 14 minutes later and, in truth, it maybe a result with which both teams were ultimately content.
A point each keeps Barcelona atop Group H, now on seven points, with Milan second, two points further back. The other teams in the group, Celtic and Ajax, lie on three points and one point, respectively. Milan and Barcelona meet again at the Camp Nou in two weeks’ time.
Milan, who started with the still not fully fit Mario Balotelli on the bench, will go there with some confidence, having proven again on Tuesday that they have the tools to frustrate their illustrious opponents. Meeting for the seventh time in just over two years, Milan have always given Barcelona a tough encounter, even if they have only won once in that spell. While there was no repeat of the Rossoneri’s 2-0 win in the first leg of their last-16 tie last season, they again came away with a positive result.
The home side’s two Brazilians, Kaka and Robinho, combined for the opening goal, but it was a strike that owed much to a far from unfamiliar blunder in the Barcelona backline. A horrible mix-up between Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano enabled Robinho to sprint away toward the edge of the area. After shifting it to the left for Kaka, the ball was returned first-time to Robinho in the center of the box, who finished low past Victor Valdes.
Perhaps the main disappointment for Milan coach Massimilliano Allegri was that his side were unable to hold their lead for longer. The manner of the goal will also be frustrating with Milan losing the ball in their own half and Andres Iniesta taking advantage of left-back Kevin Constant being out of position to find Messi in space in the box. Typically, Messi took advantage, moving inside before just maintaining his balance under pressure and squeezing a low left-footed effort past Milan goalkeeper Marco Amelia.