After a nerve-racking 90 minutes in the San Siro, Barcelona suffers another utterly frustrating defeat from Internazionale. History repeats itself as in 2010, José Mourinho’s Inter beat a seemingly unstoppable Barcelona, and indeed, neither team are up to the level of the old greats, but again, Inzaghi’s team managed to better the Catalans, placing them in a difficult situation to reach the knockouts.
Barca News Network brings you 4 key talking points after the third matchday of the Champions League.
1. Questionable refereeing / VAR
Anything could have happened on the pitch yesterday, but the scandalous decisions made by the referee arm-in-arm with VAR took the show. The refereeing took decisions against our favor in two key situations, which – even though the loss should not be entirely pointed at just these – could have sealed the fate of the game. Frustration was palpable, and rightfully, though.
At first, after endless attempts to level the scoring, Pedri finally found the back of the net after André Onana failed to neutralize Dembélé’s cross. However, the happiness has been quickly broken down as VAR disallowed the goal due to Ansu Fati’s hand touching the ball before Pedri scored.
The handball was clear, yet the rules say something else: “If the ball, after accidentally touching the hand or arm of a player, is shot by another team-mate who scores, it will be valid.” So, as strange as it seems, the goal should have been given, which could result in a whole different final 20 minutes.
The second controversial incident took place in the first minutes of the added time as Denzel Dumfries slightly hit the ball with his hand, but in some inexplicable way, VAR did not give us a deserved penalty, another potential game-changer.
Among this multitude of controversial decisions made yesterday night, questions arise about the correctness of VAR and the clarified usage of the unabolished rules, which problems have to be solved very urgently.
2. Unusual setup
Besides all of this misery, Xavi’s responsibility is indisputable in our defeat. The Catalan master opted to use a different setup than could be expected, and unfortunately, it proved to be the wrong call.
Initially, Barcelona lined up in a 4-3-3, but in possession, it seemed more like a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1. Sergi Roberto mostly operated as a third center-back, but his inclusion in the defense wasn’t needed, and it took out his presence from the midfield, where we also lacked numbers to establish our control in dangerous areas of the pitch.
On the left, Marcos Alonso constantly pushed high to provide the width while Raphinha could invert centrally and occupy the left halfspace. Again, this decision didn’t age well too as Alonso was ineffective to pose any threat from the wing and Raphinha struggled to operate well in a quasi-interior role.
The Brazilian’s skills are best utilized when he’s playing on the right wing, but yesterday, Dembélé was the one to occupy the right flank. Moreover, the Frenchman had a terrible night as he lost the ball innumerable times – indeed, usually, he was doubled on the flank, and his struggle could be associated with the lack of support from Roberto.
Possibly, it could have been better to switch their roles as it could fit them more. This could be seen once in the game when the two switched their positions as they usually do a few times a game, Raphinha beat two defenders and quickly played it towards Dembélé, who burst into the box and, unfortunately, just hit the woodwork – concluding in probably the biggest chance of the Blaugrana this night.
In continuity, Xavi was reluctant to make changes – with the otherwise good substitutions of Ansu Fati and Alex Baldé – and when he finally decided to make changes, it was in the late phases of the game, under extra pressure and a whole another psychological state. Too little, too late.
3. Pedri, just Pedri
Among the multitude of lost people, though, one stood out: Pedri González, the Golden Boy of the Blaugrana, who continues to amaze with his calm and mature play combined with astute footballing intelligence and superb technique. Furthermore, his consistency is laudable, and the fact that he keeps the soul in the team in these difficult moments bears witness to the birth of a generational star.
And he did all this in such a way that others failed to rise to the occasion. Lewandowski, whose inability to step up in clutch moments was notable even in his Bayern career, but let’s not forget that it’s still just his second ‘big game’ in the Garnet and Blue shirt. Truth to be said, he was isolated in the middle of Inter’s defensive block, barely even touching the ball, no wonder he did not have the impact expected from him.
Dembélé and Raphinha, due to the reasons I explained above, both failed to perform at their best, and the same could be said about many others too. Indeed, the structure of the team didn’t help them either, and it was something that Pedri suffered from too. While he was not bad when he basically played as a pivot alongside Busquets, his influence has increased sensibly in the second half, when playing in his preferred interior role.
4. Mental gates?
What is a noticeable tendency at Barcelona is that in the big games, the tense atmosphere and the pressure of expectations usually eventuate cramp and strain in our play, which does not affect our play positively – a refreshing exception is the 4-0 triumph in the El Clásico in March, but truth to be said, we needed some massive mistakes from Real to prevail in such a historical fashion.
But what was eye-catching against Inter again is that if our attack did not bear fruit before the opposition potentially finds success on the counter, the crampedness just increases, and if we didn’t find the way to score until a critical point somewhere around the 70′ minute mark, we are turning the panic mode on and go all in.
If we look at the statistics, these display a significant rise in the number of our chances and danger to the opposition’s goal, but these are coming from desperation rather than thoughtful building, and are lacking the precise final touch. It was the case against Frankfurt last season, and it occurred again versus Inter now.
So, what’s next? begs the question in the hopeless culé hearts. With defeats suffered from Bayern and now Inter, Barcelona are currently in the 3rd, Europa League spot in the group, and the aim of reaching the knockouts is getting tougher. Is it a reality that we can drop down to the EL the second consecutive time? Well, as painful as it is, the answer is yes, but we still have time and opportunities to win the right to continue among the bests.
Hard times always exist, and tough situations can occur, but the mentality, the attitude what matters. We have the opportunity in our hands to turn things around and we have the power to do so. We are Barça, and we refuse to give up until the last second of the last game, and we will continue to fight for survival, earliest the next week, in the Camp Nou, against Inter. Visca Barça