Barcelona 2-1 Inter: Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are back but Sergio Busquets' days are numbered

Andy West 3/10/2019
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Barcelona overcame Inter Milan in a classic game of two halves in Wednesday’s big game in the Champions League.

The visitors took an early lead through Lautaro Martinez and were deservedly ahead at the break against a ragged Barca team, but Luis Suarez bagged a brilliant brace in the second half to fire his team to three points.

The key moment came early in the second half, when Barca boss Ernesto Valverde changed the game with a bold substitution – and that kicks off our talking points from the game.

Busquets days numbered?

Barca’s improvement in this game coincided exactly with the removal of Sergio Busquets, who was replaced by Arturo Vidal early in the second half as Valverde reconfigured his midfield, positioning Frenkie de Jong and Arthur as a central double pivot while Vidal pushed on to support the attack.

The move transformed Barca. Both Arthur and de Jong looked far more comfortable and effective in their new roles, contrasting sharply with the marginal and sporadic influence they had exerted in the opening period when they were playing either side of Busquets. Vidal also made a big difference, with his more advanced position adding a new dimension to the team’s attacking play as a midfielder who was capable of getting between Inter’s lines of defence and attack.

Worryingly for Busquets, this is not the first time he has looked off the pace against top quality opposition, and since turning 30 last summer he appears to have entered an irreversible physical decline which leaves him hugely vulnerable to intense pressing. In the past, Busquets would invariably escape pressure with a clever turn or sharp pass, but now he loses possession in dangerous areas far too often. His place as an assured starter must now be under threat.

Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal

Messi back…and so is Suarez

Barca were handed a big boost before kick-off when skipper Lionel Messi was named in the starting line-up for only the second time this season. Selecting Messi to start after his injury-marred start to the campaign was clearly a risk – something manager Ernesto Valverde had regularly insisted he would avoid – but the importance of the game was such that if Messi was ready, he had to play.

Remarkably, Messi didn’t only play from the start, but he was somehow also able to play the full 90 minutes and end the game in flying form, surging forward to weave past defenders and tee up Suarez for the winner in the final stages.

Barca will have to continue to be careful with Messi’s return to action and he may need to be rested from this weekend’s meeting with Sevilla, but the international break after that game will come at a perfect time.

Suarez, meanwhile, gave the perfect riposte to the growing number of fans who doubt his suitability to continue to lead the team’s attack. The Uruguayan veteran may be past his very best and now lacks pace and finesse, but his two brilliantly taken goals show he is still a devastating finisher and worthy of his place in any team – especially when his best buddy Messi is there to find him.

Inter in trouble?

Borussia Dortmund’s 2-0 victory at Slavia Prague earlier in the evening firmly piled on the pressure on those two teams ahead of the game, and the outcome of this game means the Italian team are now in trouble at the foot of the group, three points behind Barca and Dortmund.

This game left the question of how good Antonio Conte’s team really are wide open. In the first half they looked brilliant, with Diego Godin and Stefan de Vrij expertly marshalling the defence, Stefano Sensi running riot in midfield and Lautaro Martinez combining superbly with Alexis Sanchez in attack.

But Inter nosedived in the second half, finding no answer to Barca’s greater control in the centre of the field after Busquets was taken off and de Jong and Arthur repositioned. Their first half tactics of breaking sharply through the centre of the field were no longer working, and Conte appeared to have no Plan B once Barca gained control.

The team clearly has great potential and Conte is still in the early days of his managerial reign, but Inter now need some big results to overhaul Dortmund or Barca in the remaining four group games. If not, they might be forced to continue finding their feet under their new manager in the Europa League.

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Liverpool 4-3 Red Bull Salzburg: Asian duo stretch Liverpool but Reds hold their nerve

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Red Bull Salzburg came back from 3-0 down to make Liverpool work hard for a 4-3 Champions League win at Anfield on Wednesday night.

With 36 minutes played, goals from Sadio Mane, Andrew Robertson and Mohamed Salah seemed to put the tie to bed early but Hwang Hee-Chan pulled one back before the break to keep hope alive for the away side.

Takumi Minamino then made it 3-2 early in the second period before prodigious forward talent Erling Haaland – who began on the bench as he recovered from illness – levelled the tie on the hour mark, just four minutes after his introduction.

However, the reigning European champions held their nerve, refocused and proceeded to take the upper hand again as Roberto Firmino set up Salah for his second and ultimately the game’s decisive goal.

ASIAN DYNAMITE

It’s not often a forward leaves Virgil van Dijk in his wake but Hwang pulled off just that with flair towards the end of the first half. As the South Korean chopped inside onto his right foot, the Ballon d’Or hopeful watched helplessly from the deck as the forward proceeded to execute a sublime finish into the far corner.

But he wasn’t the only Asian to make a formidable central defensive pairing of Van Dijk and Joe Gomez look increasingly stretched. Driving on from midfield, Minamino was a handful for Liverpool’s defence as he played several incisive passes in the final third and worked superbly in tandem with Hwang.

Between them, the Asian duo mustered five attempts at goal and four key passes while scoring and assisting once each. When Hwang dropped off, Minamino ran beyond and vice-versa. It was a nightmare to pick them up and Gomez in particular was caught out by their movement.

The Englishman had a horrendous game as he kept getting dragged out of position and leaving the defence exposed behind him, something Salzburg regularly seemed to exploit.

Haaland began on the bench but his introduction in the 56th minute only made Salzburg’s attacking contingent appear more explosive. It wasn’t long before he made Liverpool feel the heat either, tapping into an empty net just four minutes after taking to the pitch, benefiting from some fine work from Minamino.

It was a terrific attacking display from the visitors and all the more impressive after going 3-0 down. Had their finishing been a little better, they might’ve come away from Merseyside with a result.

Minamino and Hee-Chan

TWO OF A KIND

Years from now, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson will be fondly remembered as one of the finest full-back pairings to play the game. Liverpool are consistently exalted for their phenomenal front three of Firmino, Mane and Salah but such is the thrust provided from full-back that they almost operate with a front five instead.

Indeed the duo have now combined for a staggering 34 assists since the start of last season and Liverpool’s second against Salzburg on the night encapsulated the dynamic they add in attack.

Robertson drove forward from deep and shifted the ball inside which eventually found its way to Alexander-Arnold on the right. Having continued his run into the box, Robertson was then on hand to slot away his opposite full-back’s ball in, completing a lovely sweeping move.

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Barcelona 2-1 Inter Milan: Player ratings as Luis Suarez provides heroics and Alexis Sanchez is mixed bag

Andy West 3/10/2019
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Luis Suarez came to Barcelona’s rescue with two superbly taken second half goals, firing his team to a comeback victory over Inter Milan after Lautaro Martinez’s opener at the Camp Nou.

There were some fine performances from both teams but also some stinkers…find out who fits into which category with our full player ratings.

BARCELONA

Starting XI

Marc-Andre ter Stegen 7. Made an excellent diving stop from Martinez’s header at 0-1 – a moment which could prove decisive in Barca’s campaign.

Sergi Roberto 5. Had a tough night at right-back, unable to penetrate in attack and facing a tough task against Sensi’s darting runs.

Gerard Pique 5. Badly beaten by Martinez for the opener and later booked for a rash challenge, summing up an unconvincing display.

Clement Lenglet 6. Looked vulnerable against the pace and trickery of Martinez and Sanchez, never instilling much confidence.

Nelson Semedo 7. Playing on the left, he offered little going forward but was Barca’s best defender, making two key tackles.

Frenkie de Jong 7. Looked uncertain of his role and positioning in the first half, but massively improved after moving central in the second.

Sergio Busquets 4. Worryingly weak against Inter’s dynamic midfield trio, often looking in danger of losing possession and rightly replaced.

Arthur 7. Initially couldn’t establish his usual passing rhythm against Inter’s outstanding organisation, but integral to the second half improvement.

Lionel Messi 8. Returned from injury and was at the heart of his team’s best work, including a brilliant assist for Suarez’s late winner. He’s back.

Luis Suarez 8. Below par until he levelled with a fabulous volley and then grabbed a superb winner, once again silencing the doubters.

Antoine Griezmann 6. Had some bright moments, firing into the side-netting from a narrow angle, before being replaced by Dembele.

Subs

Arturo Vidal 8. Introduced as an attacking midfielder and made a huge difference, assisting Suarez’s equaliser and posing a constant threat.

Ousmane Dembele 6. Introduced for the last 25 minutes and initially looked lively, firing just over from 20 yards, but didn’t build on that.

INTER MILAN

Starting XI

Samir Handanovic 6. Made a couple of routine saves from Messi in the first half and had no chance with either of Suarez’s goals.

Diego Godin 6. Going up against former teammate Griezmann he was as composed as ever, but lost Suarez for the winner.

Stefan de Vrij 7. Rugged and uncompromising in the centre of Inter’s back three, relishing his physical battle with Suarez.

Milan Skriniar 7. Had to guard against Messi’s runs cutting inside from the flank and did well, except the assist for the winner.

Antonio Candreva 7. Solid in defence, helping Godin control Griezmann, and made a couple of good deliveries into the box.

Nicolo Barella 6. Came close to scoring with a blocked shot in a strong first half but couldn’t get close to Arthur or de Jong in the second.

Marcelo Brozovic 7. Sat in front of the back three, reading the game well to cut out through balls and deny Messi space. Struggled against Vidal.

Stefano Sensi 7. Busy and sharp in midfield, using the ball well and firing a 20-yard curler just over. Faded badly after the break.

Kwadwo Asamoah 6. Little impact on the ball but defended well enough, keeping Sergi Roberto in check and helping against Messi.

Alexis Sanchez 6. Some brilliant touches against his former club, including a smart assist for the opener, but faded and was replaced.

Lautaro Martinez 7. Made a fine run and shot to open the scoring, and nearly grabbed a second with a header. Tireless running.

Subs

Roberto Gagliardini 5. Introduced after Barca’s equaliser to beef up the midfield but he never really got into the game as the hosts took over.

Danilo D’Ambrosio 6. Came on at wing-back to defend against Dembele and performed that task well in the latter stages.

Matteo Politano 5. Added to the attack for the final ten minutes but couldn’t make the most of a couple of opportunities to support Martinez.

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