Soccer: Milan boss Allegri stops Messi, disproves doubters

Coach covered in praise for tactical masterpiece

Soccer: Milan boss Allegri stops Messi, disproves doubters

Rome, February 21 - AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri frequently sees his tactics come under fire in public, sometimes even from his own boss, club owner Silvio Berlusconi. Allegri looked to be in danger of losing his job for much of the first half of the season when his side struggled for form after Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazil defender Thiago Silva were sold to Paris Saint Germain in the close season. And Berlusconi recently had to clarify that he was only joking when he was heard saying that Allegri did not understand a "f**k" about soccer. But if the ex-premier really had doubts about Allegri's ability, the coach may have dispelled them after his side caged in the world's best soccer player, Lionel Messi, as part of a tactical masterpiece that led to Wednesday's 2-0 win over the mighty Barcelona. Allegri ignored Berlusconi's advice to put a man marker on the Argentina forward in the Champions League last 16 first leg at the San Siro, but still managed to make sure he was always closed down whenever he received the ball. The Catalan side dominated possession, hogging it over 70% of the time, but Milan's organised defending rendered it toothless and the home side ended up having more shots on goal. Second-half goals by Ghanaians Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari mean that Milan can afford to lose by one goal in the return leg, or two if they manage to score, and still reach the quarterfinals. "He didn't have man marking but he did create a cage," read Thursday's La Gazzetta dello Sport, giving the coach eight of 10 for the match. "Allegri fenced Messi in. There was always a Milan player on the passing lines for Leo. "That was the tip of the iceberg of a tactical masterpiece. The mortification of the god of ball possession". Milan Chief Executive Adriano Galliani also gave Allegri a slap on the back. "The cage on Messi worked," Galliani said Thursday. "Allegri got the match right and the players interpreted his instructions with extraordinary character. "We'll see what happens in the return. Now we have to go to the Camp Nou and it'll be very difficult". Wednesday's victory was all the more impressive given that Allegri was without several injured players, such as midfielders Mathieu Flamini and Antonio Nocerino, and Brazilian forward Robinho. He was also unable to field Italy striker Mario Balotelli, who was cup-tied having played in the Champions League for Manchester City before joining Milan last month. Balotelli has scored four goals in three games since arriving and helped Milan climb up to third place in Serie A. "They (my players) were patient and they found the right moment to strike," said Allegri. "The players understood what I asked of them and when you play with that kind of willingness and intensity, you can beat anyone". Allegri now has to try to focus his side's energies on next weekend's big derby match against Inter.

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