Xavi scored a goal of splendid vigour to grant Barcelona a 3-2 victory over AC Milan in a gripping Champions League match last night; in a game which also saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic start against his nemesis Pep Guardiola.
The home side were twice forced to stage comebacks, first of all through Ibrahimovic and then through a miraculous Kevin-Prince Boateng goal. In response to a Mark-Van Bommel own goal and a penalty from Lionel Messi.
This match was all about securing the top group spot, which hands the winner home advantage in the 2nd leg of last 16 draw in February. Barcelona’s win saw them finish in first place, currently 5 points ahead of Milan.
Mark Van Bommel was unfortunate to concede an own goal. Messi sliced the Milan defence open, finding Keita who placed his shot carefully, only for it to glance off Van Bommel’s leg as it crossed the line.
Ibrahimovic wasn’t to be kept quiet on this night either. Seedorf played a cross in from the left, with the Swedish striker able to run past Mascherano and slip the ball underneath the helpless Abbiati. It was a classy goal, but fingers had to be pointed at the Barca defence for their marking.
Messi’s goal came amidst controversy. Barcelona were awarded a penalty after Aquilani had brought down Xavi in the box. Messi’s first effort was disallowed because he stuttered his run up; FIFA have recently banned this. Milan protested and the penalty was retaken. But it was to no avail, as Messi easily scored.
Kevin-Prince Boateng netted Milan’s second goal of the evening. The Ghanaian latched onto a poor headed clearance from Mascherano, flicked the ball past Abidal, and blasted past Valdes to make it 2-2. It was sheer brilliance; Barcelona couldn’t stop him.
Victory was to be Barcelona’s however. And in the 63rd minute, Messi conjured a magical pass to find Xavi who scored to make it 2-3 Barcelona. Messi found Xavi after passing through four Milan players; it was a traditional Barcelona goal. Football at its very best.
Following the game, Pep Guardiola remained calm. He said; “We had a lot of possession and created chances. It is important to have won here.”
Massimilliano Allegri was understandably disappointed with his side’s inability to convert all their chances. He said: “I think we played well, although we made some mistakes, we should have made more of our chances, but our self confidence is higher.”
This was a significant victory for Barcelona. Despite remaining unbeaten in all competitions this season, their away form has been questioned. Victory over Milan, saw them become the most successful away team to play at the Stadio Guisseppe Meazza, with four victories.
Milan will take inspiration from the fact they twice came from behind and did cause Barcelona’s defence problems. Ibrahimovic will have satisfied his intense ego somewhat with his goal. Although one cannot help but think it will take victory over the Catalans later in the Competition for him to be fully vilified.