AC Milan's Muntari celebrates with teammates after scoring against Barcelona during their Champions League soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at AC Milan 2, Barcelona 0


If you think today’s result will just be a one-off, your memory’s short. This is how Chelsea did it last year. This is how Manchester United did it in 2008 and how Chelsea nearly derailed them a year later. This is how Barcelona goes out, but unlike recent years that saw opponents get a goal and hold out, Milan got two. And now one of the tournament favorites is on the brink of leaving UEFA Champions League before they’ve even managed to threaten their opponent’s goal.

That’s how surprisingly lopsided today’s match was, though that imbalance won’t be reflected in the possession stat. At 73 percent, Barcelona held even more of the ball than they’re used to. Yet paradoxically, their attack was far more feeble, only putting one shot on Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Barça never showed the will or ability to solve what’s becoming a surprisingly reliable formula.

That formula: Defend. It’s not complicated. Just keep defending to the extreme and wait for your chances, no matter how long it takes. If you stay focused, camp behind the ball, and force Barcelona to move through you, they can be beat. All you need is one moment – one good bounce, one swift movement – and you can derail one of the best teams in the world.

“The result is definitely unexpected,” Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo conceded after his team’s 2-0 victory. “We faced the best team in the world.”

Milan’s first moment came in the 57th minute, the first real chance of a game that had been chance-less. Off a restart near the edge of their attacking third, Milan let midfielder  Montolivo try from distance. His shot from 30 yards out hit a Barcelona player, went off the hand of Cristian Zapata, and fell for Kevin Prince-Boateng. The Milan attacker turned on his left foot and fired with his right from just inside the box, the bang-bang action leaving Victor Valdés flat-footed as the game’s winning goal flexed the right side of his net.

It was a stroke of bad luck for the Catalans, but sauntering through their road leg with the intensity of camel, Barça was ripe to be caught. It nearly happened in the 11th minute, when Milan broke with numbers after a corner kick. It almost happened in the 16th minute, when a poor touch from Stephan El Shaarawy is all that prevented a point-blank chance on goal. Thanks to long passes from Montolivo and the constant threat of El Shaarawy getting behind right back Dani Alves, Milan was always one movement away from taking the lead.

“We couldn’t create chances, Milan was well-organized,” Alves said before conceding, “We could have competed a bit better.”

Lightning stuck for a second time in the 80th minute when a ball chipped forward M’Baye Niang allowed the French teenager to find El Shaarawy in the box. The young Italian lifted a ball over the right side of Barça’s defense for an oncoming Sulley Muntari, whose finish back across goal put Barcelona on the edge of elimination.

“It was the most important goal of my career,” Muntari said afterward.

No doubt Barcelona controlled the match, but their command was passive, their assured but serene possession playing into Milan’s hands. With three compact midfielders, wingers tracking deep, and a defensive so far back they rarely had to worry about anything behind them, the Rossoneri willing ceded a control that never mattered. They may have only held 27 percent possession, but putting three shots on goal to Barcelona’s one, Milan were the more dangerous side.

“This is a very negative result,” Iniesta said after the match. “When you don’t show up for the game, this can happen.”

With their 2-0 victory, Milan proved more than opportunistic. They were the better side, one that leaves Barcelona needing two goals to have a chance of survival. But even before worry about converting chances, Barça needs to figure out who to create some.

source:  Man of the Match: Montolivo and El Shaarawy were key to how Milan set up, but Kevin Prince Boateng’s finish is what set Milan on their way. Not everybody would have gotten that shot on goal, let alone hit a ball so well that the opposition keeper was left flat-footed. Reflexively shooting as he turned on the ball, Prince allowed Milan to reap the rewards of an extreme but highly successful approach.

And the former Ghanian international did his part on the other end, too, coming back from his right wing position to set up in the area normally patrolled by Andrés Iniesta. The Barça star had a quiet day, and although it was unclear Boateng was the cause of that, his positioning and willingness certainly helped, particularly when he was called on to track Jordi Alba’s runs (as he memorably did to win a ball behind Milan’s line in the 43rd minute).

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Allegri, Milan have come a long way – In the wake of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Thiago Silva sale, Milan got off to a terrible start to the season. They fell to the bottom half of the Serie A table while struggling to get through their Champions League group.

Now the team sits third and have a path into the Champions League quarterfinals. What happened?

Massimiliano Allegri was given time to figure his new team out, something that didn’t look certain to happen as the Rossoneri stumbled out of the gate. But slowly Allegri determined El Shaarawy was capable of carrying the scoring burden. He incorporated Montolivo, tweaked Prince’s role, and forged a viable central defense from Philippe Mexes, Cristian Zapata, and Mario Yepes.

Along the way, he moved away from Alexandre Pato. Robinho is no longer a major part of this team. Antonio Nocerino, a find last season, isn’t a vital cog in midfield.

Six months after fans were calling for his ouster, Allegri took apart Barcelona. That’s how far his team has come.

source: Getty ImagesWhere did Lionel Messi go? – The best player in the world was a complete non-factor. Milan was tight and compact through the middle, giving Messi no space to work, but even when the Balon d’Or winner started going wide right in an attempt to find room to work, he failed to have an impact on the game. Aside from a 29th  flash when he beat left back Kevin Constant, Messi might as well have been on the sidelines.

For only the second time this season, Messi was held without a shot on goal.

It’s not like Barcelona’s other stars were much better. Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta played a bigger part in the game, but that’s to be expected. Milan wasn’t crowding the areas were they operate. Cesc Fábregas and Pedro Rodríguez? Their names were rarely called.

Messi, however, usually finds a way to break through. Even when he’s off, he’s capable of finding a moment of brilliance. Tonight, he wasn’t even close.

A portable approach – Milan’s tactics weren’t complicated. They weren’t dependent on anything specific to the San Siro, and as we’ve seen in recent years, other teams have been able to execute this approach on the road. There’s no reason why Milan can’t replicate this performance in Spain. Carrying two goals out of the San Siro, they even have license to be more extreme.

Barcelona may be able to break through in Spain, but odds are they’ll lose if they don’t change things up. They know their recent history. They know they need a Plan B. They can’t just assume dogma will win out.

The question is whether they can change. Do they have enough diversity of talent within the team to make the necessary changes? Is there even enough familiarity with a different approach to make those tweaks viable? Is there the will to try?

Barcelona’s in big trouble, and their problems transcend the score. They’re not a team well equipped to address this kind of challenge. They may be left with no recourse but to play their normal style and hope this time it wins out.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Victor Valdés actually had a good day, particularly in the first half where a couple of aggressive reads helped him snuff out changes before they developed. But there was little he could have done to prevent either goal.
  • The matchup between El Shaarawy and Alves was a particularly interesting one, with the young Italian tasked with tracking the Barcelona wingback. Early, it became evident Milan was going to try and exploit Alves’s want to push forward, with Montolivo constantly firing diagonals behind the Barça right back. Though the matchup never really bore fruit, it still helped define how Milan set up.
  • Mario Balotelli is cup-tied, having appeared in the competition with Manchester City. He was seen celebrating on the sidelines during the match’s final moments.
  • Looking at Barcelona’s bench, it’s unclear how they could have significantly changed their team. Alexis Sanchez came on, and Javier Mascherano eventually replaced a cut Carles Puyol, but the rest of the team represents a series of more-or-less like-for-like options: Alexander Song, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya, and Thiago Alcantera.

Stay with us throughout Wednesday as we take a look at the day’s other match, Turkish champions Galatasaray hosting Germans Schalke 04.

Wenger ready for Black Friday? “I love a bargain!”

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
Leave a comment

Following a bit of banter in midweek about Arsene Wenger‘s frugality in the transfer market, ahead of Arsenal’s clash at Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) their manager was asked about the Black Friday sales.

Turns out, Wenger loves a bargain.

[ VIDEO: Leicester, United clash ]

The Frenchman, 66, has helped Arsenal finance the move to the Emirates Stadium and still keep the club among the top four in Premier League for 19-straight seasons but has often been criticized for not splashing more cash in the transfer market in recent seasons with the Gunners reportedly having a healthy transfer budget.

Asked about Black Friday, here’s what he had to say.

“I love a bargain. Who doesn’t love a bargain?” Wenger laughed. “I don’t meet many people who don’t like a bargain.”

[ MORE: 10 PL players on World Best XI shortlist

More specifically surrounding transfers, Wenger has been linked with moves for Lars Bender and Alexandre Pato on Thanksgiving as the Gunners start to look a little light in midfield with injuries mounting up. A reporter asked Wenger if people should go out and by two TV’s on Black Friday, even if they didn’t need one, because they were cheap. Translation: “Arsene, will you buy anyone in January?”

“If they need two TVs then yes… but if they don’t need a TV then why should they buy two? That is where you come back to bargains. What is a bargain for us? It is to buy players of top quality. Only top quality strengthens our squad,” Wenger said. “I can tell you I bought Patrick Vieira for $3.7 million. It was a top bargain but first of all it was a top bargain because it was a top quality player. We spent nearly $60 million for [Mesut] Ozil in that deal. I still consider that a bargain because the player is top quality, so that has to be the priority, the quality of the player.”

With Arsenal’s only true holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, out injured for at least three months, Wenger confirmed that he will do business in January if a player of the required quality comes along.

So, Wenger’s a bargain hunter. Who’d have thought it…

Drogba wants to return to Chelsea… as manager

Leave a comment

Didier Drogba, Chelsea manager.” How does that sound, Blues fans?

[ MORE: Bender, Pato to Arsenal? ]

Current Montreal Impact forward Drogba still has another year to run on his contract in Major League Soccer but he’s already thinking about going into management after hanging up his boots for the final time.

Speaking to BBC Africa the 37-year-old Ivory Coast legend revealed he will return to Chelsea in some capacity once he’s finished playing, and doesn’t see why he can’t manage the Blues.

“I want to give back to the club which has given so much to me. I have agreed that with the club directors,” Drogba said.”Why not manager? Why not sporting director, trainer at the academy or maybe an advising role for strikers?”

So, there you have it. Drogba is hunting down Mourinho…

Not quite, but it’s classy to see that Chelsea will bring back the man who score the goals to help them win four Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League crown, four FA Cups, three League Cups and was one of the stars during the most successful spell in club history. Bravo.

[ MORE: 10 PL players make FIFPro World Best XI shortlist ]

As for Mourinho and the current woes Chelsea’s boss is facing following a nightmare start to the 2015-16 campaign, Drogba believes he has the support of the players and the owner and can turn things around.

“If the club has kept him that means owner Roman Abramovich thinks that he is the right man,” Drogba said. “I think the players trust him and he is giving his best to change the situation.”

And if he doesn’t, well, you have Drogba’s cell number, right Mr. Abramovich?

LIVE – Europa League: Tottenham, Liverpool look to clinch last 32 spot

Leave a comment

Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool can clinch a spot in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, with the Premier League dup doing their best to boost England’s UEFA coefficient.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Tottenham are in Azerbaijan as they sit top of Group J and a win against Qarabag (kick off, 1 p.m. ET) would secure qualification to the Europa League knockout stages for the fourth-straight season. Three points could also seal top spot if Monaco lose to Anderlecht, Mauricio Pochettino is set to rotate his squad with teenage American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers traveling with the first team.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp (fresh from practicing his scouse accent) will send his team out against Bordeaux hoping to clinch a spot in the last 32. With a win Liverpool would qualify and set up a winner-takes-top-spot clash with FC Sion in Switzerland on Dec. 10.

Other big games taking place in the penultimate round of Europa League group games include Celtic hosting Ajax knowing only a win will keep alive their hopes of making the knockout stage, Slovan Liberec and Marseille clash with serious Group F implications and plenty of groups hang in the balance with all four teams still capable of qualifying.

Click on the link above to keep up to date with all the scores from around the Europa League on Thursday.

10 Premier League players on FIFPro World XI shortlist

1 Comment

10 Premier League stars have been selected among the best 55 players in the world.

[ VIDEO: Foxes to stay top? United for title?

Manchester City lead the way in PL nominations with four. City’s David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany were shortlisted, while Chelsea has three players shortlisted with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Eden Hazard making it. Manchester United’s David De Gea and Wayne Rooney were also nominated and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez completes the 10 PL players included in the list.

Real Madrid have the most nominations with 12 players, while Bayern Munich is next with 11 and Barcelona have nine players selected. Major League Soccer has one rep with New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo included.

The shortlist was revealed after almost 25,000 professional players across the world voted. The final XI for 2015 will be announced at the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Jan. 11, 2016.

Via FIFPro, below is a full list of the 55 players on the shortlist.


Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Juventus)
Iker Casillas (Spain, FC Porto)
David De Gea (Spain, Manchester United)
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica, Real Madrid CF)
Manuel Neuer (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)


David Alaba (Austria, FC Bayern Munich)
Jordi Alba (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Daniel Alves (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Jerome Boateng (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Daniel Carvajal (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy, Juventus)
David Luiz (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
Diego Godin (Uruguay, Atlético Madrid)
Mats Hummels (Germany, Borussia Dortmund)
Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia, Chelsea)
Vincent Kompany (Belgium, Manchester City)
Philipp Lahm (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Marcelo (Brazil, Real Madrid CF)
Javier Mascherano (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Pepe (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Gerard Pique (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Sergio Ramos (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Thiago Silva (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
John Terry (England, Chelsea)
Raphael Varane (France, Real Madrid CF)


Thiago Alcantara (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Xabi Alonso (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Sergio Busquets (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Eden Hazard (Belgium, Chelsea FC)
Andres Iniesta (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Toni Kroos (Germany, Real Madrid CF)
Luka Modric (Croatia, Real Madrid CF)
Andrea Pirlo (Italy, New York City FC)
Paul Pogba (France, Juventus)
Ivan Rakitic (Croatia, FC Barcelona)
James Rodriguez (Colombia, Real Madrid CF)
David Silva (Spain, Manchester City)
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast, Manchester City FC)
Marco Verratti (Italy, Paris Saint-Germain)
Arturo Vidal (Chile, FC Bayern Munich)


Sergio Aguero (Argentina, Manchester City FC)
Gareth Bale (Wales, Real Madrid CF)
Karim Benzema (France, Real Madrid CF)
Douglas Costa (Brazil, FC Bayern Munich)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain FC)
Robert Lewandowski (Poland, FC Bayern Munich)
Lionel Messi (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Thomas Muller (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Neymar Jr. (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Arjen Robben (The Netherlands, FC Bayern Munich)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester United FC)
Alexis Sanchez (Chile, Arsenal)
Luis Suarez (Uruguay, FC Barcelona)
Carlos Tevez (Argentina, Boca Juniors)