Milan produced a superb performance to stun Barcelona and take a 2-0 lead from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Giuseppe Meazza.
Defending in numbers throughout, Milan frustrated the competition favorites before Kevin-Prince Boateng opened the scoring in controversial fashion in the second half following a handball from Cristian Zapata. With Milan continuing to gain in confidence, Sulley Muntari struck what could prove to be a crucial second nine minutes from the end.
While Barcelona will lament Milan’s opener, they can have no complaints about the final scoreline. The Blaugrana sorely lacked the incisiveness in the final third to break down a Milan side that often defended with every man behind the ball in their defensive third. Yet, for all Barcelona’s possession, Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati went the entire contest without being seriously tested.
It was far from a strictly negative performance by Massimiliano Allegri's side. When they did get the ball, Milan counter attacked with vigor and looked the most dangerous side going forward throughout the 90 minutes.
Riccardo Montolivo was positive and efficient in possession, but the performance was perhaps summed up by the two wide players, Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng, who defended with discipline throughout and were also a constant danger going forward.
Despite Barcelona’s control of the ball form the off, it was Boateng and El Shaarawy that linked up for the clearest opening of the first half. With 16 minutes on the clock, the young hope of Milan, El Shaawary, was played through from a wonderful first-time ball around the corner by Boateng, but, cutting in from the left, the 20-year-old took a poor touch and the ball ran through for Victor Valdes to be able to put it behind.
From the resulting corner Boateng shot just wide of the far post with an instinctive first-time effort.
Allegri will have been delighted that his game plan was working to nigh on perfection at the break and they stepped things up even further in the second period.
While Milan were performing admirably in restricting Barcelona there was still a sense of stunned jubilation around the Giuseppe Meazza—and from the cup-tied Mario Balotelli watching on—when the home side took the lead in the 57th minute.
From a short free-kick 30 yards form goal, Montolivo’s drive deflected up and struck the hand of Zapata’s outstretched arm, but, with Barcelona appealing in vain for a hand ball, Boateng grasped the opportunity to strike a crisp left-footed shot into the ground and beyond the dive of Valdes.
Even after going behind, Barcelona still struggled to create any openings of note. Perhaps the closest they came was from an Andres Iniesta strike from 25 yards that had Abbiati at full stretch but just swerved wide of the post.
Incredibly the night got even better for Milan in the final 10 minutes and the visitors could have no complaints about the second goal. Barcelona’s defensive weakness has been evident in recent weeks as they had gone nine games without conceding a clean sheet and it reared its head once again.
Substitute M’Baye Niang shrugged off Carlos Puyol all too easily in the area and knocked it off to El Shaawary, who quickly helped it on to an unmarked Muntari at the back post to fire in across goal and into the net.
Barcelona badly needed a goal in the final stages that would have changed the whole complexion of the tie, but with Lionel Messi having a rare off night and Alexis Sanchez again failing to provide any impetus off the bench, there was to be no reprieve.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.