Having won their La Liga crown for the fourth consecutive time, Barcelona were termed as the favourites to win the 1994 Champions League title. On this note, Cruyff’s Dream Team looked to win their second Champions League trophy in three years. While it was expected that Barcelona would tear up their Italian counter-part, Fabio Capello and his team surprised everyone by thrashing Barcelona on the night.

Line ups

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 1

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AC Milan (4-4-2) | Manager: Fabio Capello

1.Sebastiano Rossi – 2.Mauro Tassotti, 5.Filipo Galli, 6.Paolo Maldini, 3.Christian Panucci – 9.Zvonimir Boban, 4.Demetrio Albertini, 8.Marcel Desailly, 7.Roberto Donadoni – 10.Dejan Savicevic, 11.Daniele Massaro

Barcelona (4-3-3) | Manager: Johan Cruyff

1.Zubizaretta – 2.Albert Ferrer, 4.Ronald Koeman, 5.Miguel Angel Nadal, 7.Sergi – 6.Jose Mari Bakero, 3.Pep Guardiola, 9.Guillermo Amor – 8.Hristo Stoichkov, 10.Romario, 11.Txiki Begiristain

Missing key defenders such as Baresi and Costacurta, Fabio Capello opted for a formation which would ideally suit his players. Capello chose the 4-4-2 while key players were missed. Rossi started in between the sticks as Tassotti, Galli, Maldini and Panucci played as the back four. In midfield, Boban, Albertini, Desailly and Donadoni formed the line as Savicevic and Massaro played up top in the absence of key forward Marco van Basten.

Zubizaretta started in goal for Barca as he was supported by a defensive four of Ferrer, Koeman, Nadal and Sergi. Johan Cruyff chose his highly favoured 4-3-3 and in the midfield, Guardiola played as the anchor while Bakero and Amor started on either side of him. Stoichkov, Romario and Begiristain constituted the front three as Barcelona built on their possession based build up looked to win the Italian giants.

Milan’s basic structure

Right from the beginning of the game, Milan were quite compact in their defensive structure. Milan were set up in a 4-4-2 which varied as 4-1-3-2 and 4-4-1-1 based on the position of the ball. Milan were quite compact and narrow in the defensive half which did not allow Barcelona to take advantage of their possession in the central area. Desailly who played as the defensive midfielder often was called in action to clear out the Barcelona numbers and he was adept in doing that.

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 2

As it can be witnessed from the above image, Milan shaped themselves in 4-1-3-2 in the initial stages during the period in which Barcelona had good possession. The wingers Donadoni and Boban did not stay very wide as they played infield supporting the central midfield. Albertini was often asked to join the attacking duo and he was deployed as the trequartista between the two wide midfielders.

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 3

As Barca has advanced with the ball, Milan have settled to defend in two banks of four. Assuming that the ball is in the right wing of Milan, we can witness the ball near winger is much closer to the ball carrier and the opposite winger on the other side is left free. Barca here failed to utilise the presence of wingers who were quite out of play as they never came infield to support and their usage was limited making them redundant.

Also one of the two forwards would often drop deep to support the midfield as it can be see above. Milan have taken the shape of a 4-4-1-1 and the presence of a withdrawn forward helps to nullify the threat posed by the key player of the system, Pep Guardiola. In some cases, the presence of full backs in the wide areas gave width to the Milan side.

The midfielders having taken up central positions/move up to the half space, the wide areas became void and were left to be occupied. Both Panucci and Tassotti occupied these spaces taking up wide and high positions especially in the second half where Milan began to counter more effectively.

Barcelona’s basic structure

Barcelona started in their customary 4-3-3 under Johan Cruyff. Guardiola was the pivotal point of the team and they aimed to attack Milan through occupancy of the central space. The aim was to build the attack out from the back and this happened through the two central defenders. Koeman and Nadal were given the responsibility of moving out from the back and the full backs were asked to join Guardiola in midfield. This translated into to a 2-3-5 set up with the ball.

The attacking midfielders Bakero and Amor drifted into the half spaces and the wide players were very wide. Whenever Barca tried to start an attack through the central area or the half spaces they always lacked the numbers as the wide players did not shift into the infield. Also the compactness of the Milan’s 4-4-2 was easily felt as the striker Romario was often left isolated. He was denied any space and either one of the two central defenders would often cover him up.

The two Milan full backs marked the Barcelona wingers and Galli was onto Romario and this meant that Maldini was often the spare man available in defence and he made inroads into midfield once Milan won the ball back. When the team translated from the 4-3-3 to the 2-3-5 in attack, they had left gaping holes in half spaces which were to be exploited if Milan won the ball back. These situations were effectively taken advantage by Milan and they countered them with pace. In certain instances, Milan were accustomed with playing long balls over the defence to find their forwards in space so that they can counter successfully.

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 4

From the above image we can identify the structure adopted by Barcelona during their build-up with the ball. The video below shows exactly how these movements took place.

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These movements would’ve been quite dangerous should Milan have defended poorly but to their credits they were very astute in their defensive display. These situations often left Milan with the options of opening up Milan in counters and they dominated the Spanish through this tactic.

Milan exploit the channels

The game plan adopted by Milan in the initial stages of the game was to find the central players in the attacking third through long balls. As Milan were defensively tight, they were unable to play penetrative short balls and this meant that Barcelona tried to play centrally through diagonals instead of creating overloads in the wide areas.

In the video above, we can see how Barca have left spaces in going for their build up. Once Milan win the ball back, there is much space upfront and they comfortably occupy these spaces through quick and pacey forwards who are found by players behind through long balls and penetrative passes.

In the image below, the starting position for the counter can be noted as the aftermath of the build-up. In the defensive position, Milan can be seen in their two banks of four while Barcelona have left huge spaces to be occupied once Milan win the ball. These spaces can be occupied by wide players who emerge forward with the ball.

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 5

In other instances, Milan were able to break Barcelona when they won the ball after pressing in the middle third. As said earlier, the full backs took high positions in later stages of the game and this was quite interesting as they helped in counter attacks. From the image below, we can witness how Milan were able to find full backs in space through long balls. This situation is once again a result of a turnover from Barcelona build up and Milan were adept at countering them.

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 6

Here the central midfielder is in possession and plays it over the defence to the bombarding full back on the right. He collects the balls and lays it off to the central striker who emerges from the midfield and moves into the space just in front of the penalty area. This is another instance in which Milan were able to threaten the Spanish team.

Milan’s Midfield Dominance

One of the major reasons as to why Milan were successful in seeing out Barcelona was their dominance in midfield. Milan had four midfielders in the centre compared to Barcelona’s three creating a numerical superiority in the 4v3 overload. Whenever the Milan wide players moved to the flanks, either one of the two midfielders dropped deep in order to restore balance.

Barcelona had more opportunities when the ball was at their feet especially through Guardiola’s presence in midfield. To disrupt the chances created from the Barcelona No.3, one of the two strikers always tracked him back. This gave more numbers in the midfield.

In other cases, the ball far full back/winger was always left free as the concentration towards the ball carrier was increased. This meant that focus was more on the position of the ball rather than occupying spaces. However Barca failed to utilize the movements of players advancing forward with runs into spaces. This was easily visible as the two wingers stayed in their positions rather than floating into the central area.

In the video below, the movements of Milan’s midfielders can be seen relative to that of the Barcelona players.

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In the centre Milan used a flat midfield four which transformed to a 1-3 system depending on the situation and movements of Desailly. The defensive midfielder was responsible to the structure of the team and the midfielders and players around him moved with respect to his position. When Albertini was asked to play in a more advanced role, Milan looked to have adopted the diamond in the centre giving them more control.

Milan 4-0 Barcelona | 7

As it can be witnessed from the image above, Milan utilized their diamond shape in the middle to control the midfield. It has to be put down to both Capello and the Milan players that the diamond in the midfield worked well. Capello looked to squeeze the space and had his team stay compact.

The Milan players having mastered playing various positions under Sacchi’s tutelage had no problem in slotting in to positions that required different qualities of them. Roberto Donadoni’s versatility and tactical understanding of the game was instrumental in him playing on either the flanks or the interior corridors. Marcel Desailly on the other hand, despite being a center back, had no problem in playing as the destroyer in midfield and provided cover to the defenders behind him.

Conclusion

While expected the Dream Team under Johan Cruyff to thrive, it was the Italian side who emulated themselves from their time under Sacchi. Milan under Sacchi was a dream. And it was Fabio Capello’s Milan of the 90s which came close to emulate it by winning the Champions League and thrashing the finalists in an astounding fashion.

Much was expected from Barcelona however both the teams missed their key players. Credit must go to Fabio Capello for having instilled a system in the team that did not require Baresi or Costacurta in the center of the defense to dispatch Barcelona in their biggest game of the season. Despite not having been prolific scorers throughout the season, Milan displayed excellent efficiency in taking their chances on the night while remaining watertight in the back, just like they had been all season.

On the night after the game Capello said,

When I saw Laudrup wasn’t playing, I relaxed,” Capello recalled. “He was the one that worried me.”

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Saiguhan Elancheran

Co-Founder and Manager here. An ardent Manchester City fan. Loves Pep Guardiola as well as Mourinho, with an affinity towards defensively brilliant teams. Idolizes Julian Nagelsmann.
Saiguhan Elancheran