On a night where taking the 3 points in the Champions League would’ve been instrumental for Barcelona, they managed to come just short and lose to Inter Milan on the opposition’s home turf. Vague, directionless, and painfully predictable, the Catalan side could be described using a number of adjectives that aren’t flattering. Yet it was clear as day, tonight was not just a bad performance by the players, but rather a tactical blunder by Xavi himself in a lot of different positions.
Inter Milan is a team that thrives on counter-attacks through the use of their flanks, and this was common knowledge even before the game had begun. Ideally, Xavi could have opted to play Balde at LB today to be able to cope with the pace and verticality of Inter’s play on the wings. Yet, the Spanish manager chose to field Marcos Alonso yet again against a strong team in the Uefa Champions League. Already fielding two wingers in Dembele and Raphinha who generate a lot of creativity for the team, only to add Alonso to the mix at fullback instead of opting for a profile that’s rather different and may cover more ground at a faster speed.
A dull affair all-around, one key takeaway that was apparent to most fans with working eyesight; Raphinha was completely wasted as a winger on the left-hand side. Closed down rather instantly on most occasions, struggling to open up space for himself and managing to have most of his shots on goal getting blocked comfortably by the Inter defense, it was a night to forget and a tactic to heavily criticize.
Whereas logically it ought to be Dembele, who is capable of shifting to either foot in various scenarios, who is deployed on the left and Raphinha on the right. Way too late did Xavi seem to realize this issue and made both wingers switch wings. Within a couple of minutes the Brazilian winger spent on the right wing, he managed to help create one of the best chances the Blaugrana had managed to carve open the entire night. A few minutes later, he was subbed off and replaced by Ansu Fati, with Dembele retaking the Right-Wing spot immediately.
Inter’s low block throughout the game turned out to be an extreme hassle to deal with. Having closed down Lewandowski with 3 Centre-backs all hovering around him, and closing down Dembele with not just a fullback but also a defensive midfielder dropping back and helping in trying to nullify the Frenchman. Both of these key individuals for Barca were kept at bay for almost the entirety of the game, with the latter of the two also showcasing some rather frustratingly questionable decision-making.
Upon the late introduction of Balde, there was a visible change in the dynamism of the team. Faster, more aggressive, and more objective-driven: the team felt revived for the dying minutes. Yet, he was given far too little time to make a conclusive difference to the result of the game.
The Italian opposition managed to make life difficult for Barca through two main outlets:
1. Their work rate and consistent attacks from the flanks
2. The ability of their midfielders and attackers to take long shots at goal with great quality.
Both of these factors were pivotal in allowing Inter to take the lead. Due to their players sticking wide on the flanks, they were able to pull out multiple Barca players into wider positions, leaving more gaps in between each Centre-Back, which in turn allowed Hakan Çalhanoğlu to put his rather dangerous shooting ability to good use and consequently give his side the lead through an undoubtedly excellent go from distance.
However, arguably the main talking points of the game were the two handball incidents. According to Fifa themselves, the new handball ruling suggests: “Accidental handball that leads to a team-mate scoring a goal or having a goal-scoring opportunity will no longer be considered an offense.”
This clearly applied to the first goal by Pedri that was disallowed due to an accidental handball by Ansu Fati, where the ball was pushed onto his hand by Inter’s keeper, Andre Onana.
The next incident, possibly more intentional of a handball, saw Denzel Dumfries attempt to clear a cross towards Ansu Fati with his header, only to miss and clear it instead with his hand. Players, pundits, and watchers alike universally may have immediately thought a penalty would be awarded after seeing the replay, yet the Virtual Assistant Referee thought otherwise, and completely waved off the potential penalty check and got play resumed.
The refereeing decisions, bad-play all around, and tactical mishaps. This was a game to forget for the Catalan side, and they must now look forward to facing Inter at the Camp Nou next week and correcting their mistakes from last night.
Barcelona currently sit 3rd in their group table, amassing a mere 3 points from 3 games, but sharing the same goal difference with Inter Milan (+1) who currently have 6 points, meaning if they were to win over the Italian side in the next outing, they would take over that 2nd position.