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Barcelona back to business as usual after the international break

The club coped well after having plenty of their players away

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona saw most of their players jet off over the international break as national team duty called, but there seemed to be few ill-effects against Espanyol.

Ernesto Valverde’s side have toiled a little after internationals this season, having to come from behind to beat Real Sociedad in September and needing to salvage a late draw against Atletico in November. To start with at least they found it tough going against Espanyol.

Lionel Messi’s Argentina still show no signs of returning to their glory days, with a 3-1 loss to Venezuela and a narrow 1-0 victory over Morocco, but Barcelona fans have little to fear as Messi shrugged off a groin injury to maintain his sublime form this season with two more goals.

Uruguay had to make do without Luis Suarez as he missed out with a sprained ankle. However like his attacking counterpart he was a threat throughout on Saturday and looked fully fit which will be a relief to Ernesto Valverde.

Ivan Rakitic endured a turbulent time with a unsteady-looking Croatian side over the international break. The midfielder certainly played his part in a dominant performance against Azerbaijan, by assisting Croatia to attain 74% ball possession and fire away 21 shots in the 2-1 triumph, however he appeared mostly absent in a shock 2-1 loss to Hungary, where the Croatians looked fatigued at best in what was an underwhelming performance in Budapest.

Yet there were no signs of tiredness from Rakitic against Espanyol, as he put in yet another fine display and was unlucky not to score with a shot that flashed just wide.

Clement Lenglet is another player who benefitted from some rest over the break. He lost out on a place in the French lineup, although Samuel Umtiti did feature for Les Bleus and looks to be in formidable form after returning from a long-term injury. He helped maintain a clean sheet in France’s 4-0 drubbing of a physical Icelandic side, and even opened the scoring with a sublime header.

He also churned out a respectable performance against Moldova prior to the Iceland game. His Barca performances in the coming weeks will be highly anticipated by all Barcelona faithful as he battles with Lenglet for a starting spot.

Barca’s full-backs also seem to be in fine form, with Jordi Alba and Sergio Roberto taking it in turns to represent the Spanish squad against Norway and Malta respectively. La Furia Roja certainly seemed to get their edge back against Norway, with 76% ball possession and a massive 26 shots on goal. Furthermore, Alba did well to contain a Norwegian defence who only managed a measly four shots on target all game; it eventually took a 65th minute penalty for them to appear on the scoreboard.

The match against Malta was even more one-sided, with Spain enjoying 84% possession and Roberto and Co. only allowing two shots on goal for the whole 90 minutes. While neither opponent was of the calibre of Barca’s foes for the coming weeks, all signs are positive from a pair of full-backs who currently seem to be devoid of errors.

Spain v Norway - UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Both players featured against Espanyol, as did Nelson Semedo who was called up to the Portugal side but did not feature in their games against Serbia and Ukraine.

Semedo was back in action for Barcelona on Saturday and put in a pretty impressive display against Espanyol down the right flank. He’s been battling with Sergi Roberto all season for the right-back slot and may just have the edge on the Spaniard.

Barca’s stars did well to represent their respective nations over the international break and then respond so well in a challenging fixture against Espanyol. There are more tough games on the horizon, against Atletico Madrid and Manchester United, and it is imperative that they maintain their fine form.

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