Morbo Minute–La Liga dominates Europe

The only Champions League Quarter Final I wanted to watch was FCB and AC Milan.  Two European giants, a good test for the Spanish Champions, a real possibility of elimination.  The rest of the ties didn’t get the juices following.  Marseille could only survive by digging in and making things difficult for Bayern Munich; APOEL couldn’t possibly hope to beat mighty Real Madrid; and Chelsea and Benfica was mildly compelling but I couldn’t find time.  In the end Bayern and Real cruised while Chelsea got the away goal in the first leg and then held on at the Bridge.

The confrontation between the Blaugrana and the Rossoneri was tense and exciting, filled with talking points in both legs.  Ultimately the tie was decided by finishing or lack thereof.  AC Milan could have scored several goals in each leg but Robinho and Ibra weren’t sharp enough.  If your only goal comes from Nocerino then you’re in trouble.  Having said that, what a wonderful goal it was.  But Barca were not sparkling either.  Messi in particular has set the bar so high that you expected him to score with the numerous chances he was given.  At the Nou Camp, with the tie on a knife edge, he kept firing at Abbiati or just wide, making the pit in my stomach bigger and darker.

I was very nervous for the return leg, feeling that AC Milan could score at least one, which they did, and had nightmares about Inter in 2010 when FCB needed two goals and it took forever to just get one.  So when Messi scored the first penalty, the work was only half done, because Nocerino scored, putting the pressure back on Barca.  The second penalty was dodgy.  Very rarely called, complicated by the Puyol pick, the hosts were lucky to get that one.  Plus Ibra might have had a shout early in the second half.  Iniesta’s goal was quality and put the result beyond doubt.

AC Milan were positioned to advance.  They acknowledged that FCB were better and dug in, hitting the ball early to their forwards for a moment of magic, with KPB running around as another option.  And it almost worked because Barca were in control but not necessarily sharp.

Zonal Marking examined the match and looked at how Barca’s starting 3-3-4 affected the match. Cuenca provided the width that was missing the first leg, while equal or superior numbers in midfield kept the Blaugrana in control.  Zonal Marking felt that they did not create many chances.  I disagree.  In the first half, they had chances but Barca, Messi in particular, fluffed their lines.  Robinho’s improved tactical contribution was noted, but the conclusion says it all:

Barcelona are a far better football team than Milan on paper – but over the two legs, they only looked marginally better. Milan didn’t do anything special to frustrate Guardiola’s side, but a combination of an over-cautious approach in the first leg, and a slightly confused formation in this second game meant that Barca struggled to demonstrate their natural superiority in the final third. In the tie, the goal that was most Barcelona-like was Nocerino’s equaliser.

Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog skipped the tactics and focused on the result—victory.   He advised cules to take the high road, that no matter what FCB do, haters are gonna hate.

On to the Semis with mouthwatering matchups that could provide an all Spanish final or Bayern home field advantage or Mourinho coaching against his former club.  Real have to be a favorite because if Bayern really go at them, whatever attacking formation Los Merengues go with will tear them apart. Chelsea have a puncher’s chance and an inspired performance at Stamford Bridge could give them a platform for an upset.  Bayern vChelsea is the least likely matchup and would be a let down in most circles, but stay tuned and see what happens.

Can’t end without mentioning La Liga success in the Europa League.  Last year it seemed to be the year of the Portuguese and this year it is dominated by the Spanish.  Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia all progressed to the semis, pretty comfortably I might add.  I didn’t watch a minute of the quarters but may have to carve out some time for the semis.

Atletico could win this competition for the second time in three years and salvage something from the season.  Valencia, who are in free fall in the league, could use a little boost that this trophy would provide heading into the summer.  (Chalk on the Boots had a nice post on the second leg at El Centrocampista.  He mentioned thatValencia are missing Banega, which could be crucial in the run-in for the league and this cup.)  As for Athletic, the Champions League push is all but over, so they are pursuing a cup double, which would be nice return from an up and down season.

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