The first game for Barcelona with Lionel Messi on the sidelines ended with a rather impressive victory against a competitive Inter Milan in the Champions League. Barcelona were clearly superior for the majority of the game and they crowned their play with goals from Rafinha and Jordi Alba while not allowing a single one – a first since 18 September.
The majority of the Barcelona lineup was pretty much set in stone coming into the game, with Sergi Roberto returning to right back and Ernesto Valverde going with the same midfield he went against Sevilla. The only unknown was who would replace the injured Messi, with most anticipating either Ousmane Dembele or Malcom, but both of them would be relegated to bench duty. Instead, Rafinha made his first start since the middle of September against Real Sociedad.
Inter started the match in aggressive fashion, pressing Barcelona high up the pitch hoping for a deep turnover – something Ivan Perišić managed early as he intercepted an errant pass from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the Croatian’s following shot missed the target. The hosts were sticking to their usual game plan, but Inter’s defense allowed very little space in the danger areas. Barcelona’s first shot didn’t come until the 13th minute when Philippe Coutinho fired high and wide from distance.
Both teams were guilty of some poor passing in the early stages which led to plenty of broken plays. Inter caught Barcelona napping a little bit in the 16th minute as Perišić broke down the left wing before finding Mauro Icardi in front who found a soft spot between the two Barcelona center-backs. The Argentine was able to get a shot off while under pressure but it sailed over the crossbar.
Barcelona countered immediately and won a corner kick from which the Catalans created by far their best opportunity this far, but Clement Lenglet’s header went right at Samir Handanović. A foot either way and Barcelona would’ve been in the lead. Three minutes later the hosts showcased some very nice passing to create a shooting lane for Rafinha, but the midfielder’s 20-yarder was too weak to cause any problems for the goalkeeper.
While it was Barcelona who controlled the game with their possession play, Inter remained dangerous on the counter attack, with former La Masia graduate Icardi proving difficult to contain. The Catalans would create their next chance in the 27th minute after nice passing between Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez, but once again Rafinha’s shot wasn’t good enough to beat the Slovenian between Inter’s goal-posts.
Barcelona’s intensifying pressure finally paid off in the 32nd minute as the Catalans took the lead. Rafinha stole the ball in midfield before passing it off to the right wing to Suarez. The Uruguayan waited for options before spotting Rafinha making a run down the middle. Suarez sent a perfect cross right into the path of the midfielder who tapped the ball into the back of the net.
The visitors weren’t discouraged by the conceded goal as they quickly went on the attack in search for the equalizer, but the closest the Italians came was when Matías Vecino fired about a foot over the crossbar from 25-yards out. However, Inter’s stay in Barcelona’s half was short-lived as the hosts quickly retained control of the ball and returned to the offensive, but despite some encouraging attacks, including a free kick from the very edge of the area, the halftime whistle blew with Barcelona up by a single goal.
Unhappy with his team’s play, Luciano Spalletti made a substitution during the halftime break, bringing on Matteo Politano in place of Antonio Candreva. The visitors started the second half brightly, pinning Barcelona deep and threatening for the first time in the 50th minute when newcomer Politano sent a curling cross that ter Stegen had to save with a diving stop. Politano had another chance the very next minute, but his shot went over the crossbar.
Inter were pushing for the equalizer but Barcelona were holding on. Furthermore, after surviving the early Inter onslaught Barcelona retuned to the attack and quickly Suarez created a good scoring chance with a couple lovely dribbles on the left side, but his shot went right at Handanović. In the 61st minute, Lenglet had a glorious chance to score his first in blaugrana colors after a terrible Kwadwo Asamoah turnover, but couldn’t beat Handanović from close range.
Spalletti further reinforced his attack in the 64th minute when he took off Borja Valero and replaced him with Lautaro Martínez. Shortly thereafter Barcelona had another chance from a free kick from a very similar spot as they had late in the first half, but again the attempt was blocked, this time by a lying down Marcelo Brozović.
Barcelona came close to doubling their lead in the 70th minute after a lighting quick counter started by a brilliant flick by Arthur. A few passes later, Coutinho was left with a scoring chance, but his rising shot bounced back off the crossbar. Valverde then made his first substitution of the match, replacing Rafinha with Nelson Semedo. A couple minute later Keita Balde replaced Peršić for Inter with Arturo Vidal joining play in place of Arthur shortly thereafter.
Inter were finding some success in attack, but ter Stegen went largely untested. On the other end of the pitch Barcelona were inching closer and closer as Inter’s defense looked far from sure-footed. And the Catalans were rewarded for their perseverance in the 84th minute when Rakitić found Alba with a lovely through ball that the left back calmly slotted inside the far post.
With time running out Munir El Haddadi replaced Coutinho to complete the final substitution. Suarez would have another chance in the 90th minute after a brilliant pass from Alba, but his low shot was well saved by the goalkeeper. Three minutes were added on but with Inter unable to mount a historic comeback Barcelona continued their perfect run in the Champions League.
Next up, the big one – El Clasico!