Barcelona defeated Inter Milan 2-0 in the Champions League. Here are three things we learned from the game.
Despite the absence of Lionel Messi, Barcelona were still able to win against stiff competition in Inter Milan in their third Champions League game of the season. The win moves them into sole possession of first place in Group B, and they’ll control their own destiny from here on out in the group stage.
Business as usual for Barca
Barcelona will be without Lionel Messi for the next few weeks, and that means other players will need to step up in his absence. Today, that player was Rafinha. Rafinha started in Messi’s usual position on the right wing, a decision some may have criticized Ernesto Valverde for prior to the game. Valverde was vindicated in the 32nd minute, when Rafinha received a cross from Luis Suarez and slotted the volley home.
Rafinha was instrumental in several scoring chances in the first half, and when the opportunity presented itself, he was ultimately clinical in front of goal. The goal he scored was perhaps more difficult than it appeared at first glance, as he corralled the ball and guided it into the back of the net at a very tight angle before his momentum carried him across the touchline.
Despite Messi’s absence, Barcelona were up to their usual standard, dominating possession and stringing together several consecutive passes. Prior to the goal, Barca were successful in creating chances, especially chances close to goal. It seemed that as the game proceeded, scoring would be an inevitability for them, and that prophecy came true.
Inter defended valiantly in the first half, with several players behind the ball. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Barcelona, a team can only keep up that kind of effort for so long before they’re broken. Losing Messi will certainly be a blow for Barca, as it would for any team on the planet no matter how talented, but Barcelona may have just enough talent throughout their side to endure the time he’ll miss due to injury.
Inter were unable to find the final element
On paper, Inter are a very talented team. Their form in Seria A is proof of that, as they currently sit in third behind only Napoli and Juventus. The squad is full of world class players, with striker Mauro Icardi one of the best among them. If they played with the kind of effort and initiative that they showed in today’s game against any other opponent, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they would have either drawn or won at the end.
Unfortunately for Inter, when you’re faced with a team like Barcelona, “good enough” simply isn’t enough to get the job done. A team with this much talent requires effort, ingenuity and cohesiveness from every player on the pitch, and that wasn’t the case in today’s game. Even though they didn’t control possession, they played well in defense. Barca had their fair share of chances, but the high pressing style of Inter made sure that they didn’t run rampant with the ball in front of goal.
The issue for Inter was their inability to make the final incisive move to create any truly threatening opportunities. Their play in the final third didn’t match their efforts in the other areas of the game, and they were held scoreless as a result. Icardi is one of the best strikers in the world, but a striker can only be in top form if his teammates can get the ball to him and put him in positions to score. He was able to make runs into the box and often get away from some of the Barca defenders, but the link up play left much to be desired. Had Inter’s midfielders been able to make the final pass into Icardi, we may be looking at a much different result.
Group B takes shape
After Barca’s win today, they’ve managed to maintain a perfect start to their Champions League journey. The Catalan giants have captured the maximum nine points from their first three games in the group stage. This sets them up nicely for the next part of the group stage, in which they will control their own destiny. Time will tell how the Messi injury affects them domestically (especially with El Clasico approaching), but they look to be one of the best teams in the Champions League this season.
As for Inter, they remain in good standing in Group B, with six points from their first three games. The teams beneath them, PSV and Tottenham, have both under-performed, meaning that Inter will have a slightly more comfortable road to qualifying for the knockout rounds. A win against a Barca team without Messi would have definitely shaken things up within the group, but the standings will hold form through matchday 3.
Both Barcelona and Inter have proven themselves as the best teams in group B, and their play shows that they deserve to be in first and second respectively. Qualifying will be an uphill battle for both PSV and Tottenham, especially given the quality of their opponents in the group. But, as we know, the Champions League is anything but easy, so anything either of these four teams achieve will undoubtedly be earned when it is all said and done.