They didn’t like being called the favourite. Barcelona almost always are these days, but something about AC Milan frightened them. Not so much the team, or its players, but the very thought of playing against Milan. Barcelona’s people spoke of their opponents in the round of 16 in the Champions League as if they were patron saints of the tournament. (And to some they are.)
But they came into Milan’s San Siro revering a familiar foe to such great extents. Milan’s history, their seven European titles, and their past performances against Barcelona — despite winning none of the seven previous games — intimidated them. Barca’s president, Sandro Rosell, didn’t feel relaxed. Xavi, too, speaking like a historian of the game, felt uneasy. “They have always made things difficult for us,” he told Sport.es before the game.
If Milan’s new team — only four of the team’s starters remained the same since the last time the two sides met — didn’t intimidate them, this idea of history did. Not what Milan are, but what they represent: a club demanding respect. Now, Bojan Krkic, the former Barcelona player, had at least said so: “Barca has the best in the world,” he told reporters, “but the San Siro commands respect.” So the visitors gave them every bit of it, maybe even too much. After all, it is Barcelona’s opponents who so often give too much respect. So often those opponents give up possession for the sake of defending.