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.
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.
Lionel Messi created more chances (6) than any other player on the pitch against Inter Milan.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 2, 2019
A delightful assist to go with it. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/Fjuyxrbsei
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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