Barca face a stern test in their next Champions League Group B fixture, with Italian giants Inter Milan paying a visit to the Camp Nou in what looks to be a hotly-contested race to first place. Whilst Barca are currently topping the group on goal difference, a surprise performance by Inter would see a flip in group dynamics, and considering that Il Biscione have won their last seven consecutive matches, they are in fine form to cause an upset.
Both sides have incurred casualties in the last few weeks, with Lionel Messi suffering a broken arm in the match against Sevilla, and Radja Nainggolan being taken off after 30 minutes against AC Milan due to injury. Furthermore, Barca have a significant void in defence, with Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen out with injuries. At least Sergi Roberto has returned to the side, making an appearance from the bench in the Sevilla game.
With that being said, there are a number of Inter players who pose a large-scale threat to an injury-plagued Barca. There are, however, a few things that the Blaugranes can do to stop them in their tracks. Let’s take a look at Inter’s key players and what Barca can do to outplay them.
Starting with the obvious, Icardi is Inter’s main target man with a prolific goal scoring ability. He has scored four goals in seven in the current Serie A campaign, most notably the late winner against AC Milan on the weekend, and has also bagged two assists. He has also achieved consistency in the Champions League, scoring against both Tottenham Hotspur and PSV Eindhoven. What the Milan derby showed us, is that even when Icardi seems unnoticeable, he is as dangerous as ever, and can deliver the goods in any situation. Not to mention that he has the remarkable ability to lose his marker, as he showed in the late winner as well as his early first-half attempt that was ruled offside. It will take some physicality and excellent man marking from Pique and Lenglet to stop Icardi from converting on the night.
Whilst not one of the big names, the loanee from Sassuolo is a hard worker who, along with his pace and passing ability, has the potential to change the flow of the game. A well rounded winger, he possesses shooting ability and also provides solid support to the rest of the attacking lineup. The left-footed winger certainly proved his worth at Sassuolo, and racked up 10 goals and five assists last season. Possibly the highlight of his Sassuolo career was his goal against Napoli which earned Sassuolo a shock 1-1 draw last season. Such performances, along with his aforementioned talent, sparked Napoli’s intent to purchase him in the January transfer window, however the paperwork never came through, and he now finds himself on loan at Inter, intending to prove himself and secure a permanent deal. Despite his strengths, he sees himself pitted against Barca’s formidable left-back Jordi Alba, who possesses the skill and experience to close down the youngster and make it difficult for him to keep a cool temperament. So long as Alba remains on form ,overwhelming Politano should be an achievable feat.
Despite enduring a frustrating night against AC Milan, the left-winger has been impressive for the better part of the season, scoring two goals and providing two assists in Serie A. The Croatian has had tons of experience playing against the big teams, and one cannot forget the impact he had on the Croatian national team as they made it all the way to the 2018 World Cup final. What Perisic will consequently possess, that youngsters such as Politano may lack, is the big match temperament, having played on football’s greatest stage as well as making five appearances for Borussia Dortmund as they made it to the final of the 2012-13 Champions League. One also cannot forget the consistency that Perisic has shown over the past few seasons, bagging 11 goals and 11 assists in both of his last two Serie A campaigns. With Sergi Roberto only recently returning from injury, the task of stopping him in his tracks will likely fall on Nelson Semedo. Whilst he usually shows quick pace when going forward in support of Barcelona’s attacks, and made good interceptions and clean tackles in the Valencia match, he constantly failed to keep up with his marker when backtracking against Sevilla. He will need to be more defensive-minded when facing Perisic and ensure he closes the gaps, as any flaws will allow the Croatian to provide some fatal crosses into the penalty area.
Stefan de Vrij
Inter’s rock at the back has the physicality and tackling prowess to seriously frustrate any team’s attacking lineup. He clearly outplayed Gonzalo Higuain in the Milan derby, and even showed danger when going on the attack, hitting the crossbar with a powerful header. Even though de Vrij has been impressive, this has not been enough to cover up Inter’s vulnerability in defence. Inter has only managed three clean sheets this season, and conceded eight goals in all competitions. Considering that some of these goals were conceded against minnows such as Sassuolo, Parma and SPAL, Barca’s attacking talisman Luis Suarez should have no problem finding the net with his venomous shots, jockeying and all-around flair. He may even bag an assist. So long as Suarez repeats his standout performance at Sevilla, he should be too much for the young Dutch centre back to handle.