Barcelona gambled their future by spending big during the summer but the Catalans look bound for the Europa League after a 3-3 draw with Inter.
Robert Lewandowski ensured the spoils were shared at Camp Nou in a thrilling 3-3 draw between Barcelona and Inter but the hosts’ chances of reaching the Champions League knockout stages are hanging by a thread.
After last week’s controversial 1-0 loss at San Siro, the pressure was well and truly on Xavi’s side to bounce back on home soil and, after coming desperately close to opening the scoring through Lewandowski and Pedri, Ousmane Dembele slotted Barca ahead just before the half-time whistle, tucking away Sergi Roberto’s low cross.
However, Nicolo Barella capitalised on hesitant defending from Gerard Pique to level the game shortly after the restart before Lautaro Martinez made it 2-1 after an hour with a strike that hit both posts before beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Suddenly, Barcelona were in crisis and Camp Nou was stunned into silence. That was until Lewandowski made it 2-2 with a deflected shot, sparking a sensational finale.
Inter reclaimed the lead with a minute of normal time remaining through substitute Robin Gosens, meaning Barca were out.
However, Lewandowski levelled once more in injury time, this time with a sublime header, to keep Barca in with a mathematical chance of advancing from the group.
However, despite the Pole’s late heroics, Inter only need to win at home to Viktoria Plzen to ensure that they will progress to the last 16 ahead of Barca, who face Bayern next.
After Inter’s dire start to the Serie A season, their coach’s position was under serious scrutiny going into this crucial double-header with Barca.
However, after watching his side ride their luck at San Siro, Inzaghi went to Camp Nou and put in a seriously impressive tactical display.
Indeed, they were a constant threat throughout with their slick counter-attacks and would have deservedly won the game had it not been for Lewandowski’s late heroics.
Inzaghi’s frustration was obvious, with the former Lazio boss shown a red card in the dying seconds, but this was ultimately a good result for Inter.
A point means that the Nerazzurri will qualify for the knockout stage with a win at home to Viktoria Plzen next time out, which would be a huge achievement for Inzaghi.
No Romelu Lukaku, no worries. Lautaro loves a big occasion. A monstrous second-half display showed just how lethal a forward he is when at his rampant best.
The Argentine preyed on defensive errors, anticipated well and was rewarded with a brilliant goal which went in off both posts for his efforts.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Martinez in the last few years. Even this season, his performances have been streaky. But to lead the line like he did in such a massive game underlined his class.
A late brace from Lewandowski – who bagged his 90th and 91st Champions League goals in the process – has single-handedly kept Barcelona’s head above the water in the Champions League.
Before the flurry in the final 10 minutes, he’d endured a tough night at the office, too. He just couldn’t wriggle free from Inter’s defensive unit and was starved of any real service.
The game opened up, though, and when Barca went more direct, it was Lewandowski who came up with the goods, to keep their very, very slim hopes of making the last 16 alive.
You would be forgiven for not noticing that Alonso was substituted late on, just as you’d be forgiven for forgetting he was on the pitch at all.
Since making the move from Chelsea in the summer, the Spaniard has largely failed to deliver and flattered to deceive at his new club. That continued against Inter, with a performance that wasn’t convincing in either attack or defence.
Inter regularly broke in wide areas with Barcelona’s full-backs sitting so high up, but Alonso was never able to make recovery runs, sit in the right positions or even contribute significantly going forward to make up for defensive limitations. A seriously poor night at the office.
Thrust back into the starting XI due to injury, Pique didn’t cover himself in glory.
With Barcelona so dominant in terms of possession, the 35-year-old wasn’t called into action all too much. All he needed to do was stay focused, though, and he switched off just minutes into the second half. His lapse in concentration played Nicolo Barella onside and allowed Inter to equalise.
Pique is a true Barca legend but time waits for no man and when you lose that edge, it very rarely comes back.
All the money they could possibly spend has been spent. All the economic levers they could possibly activate have been activated. And where are Barcelona heading? For the Europa League, it seems.
Not even the brilliance of Lewandowski late on could make up for defensive chaos that cost the hosts a huge three points.
Sure, Barcelona are flying high in La Liga, but the real money is made in the Champions League and the cash-strapped Catalans are set to miss out on millions by making yet another early exit.
Failure to reach the knockout stages after this summer’s spending spree would be sporting and financial disaster for Barca.
Laporta’s massive gamble appears to have backfired spectacularly.
Barcelona Ratings: Defence
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (6/10): Could do nothing to stop Barella’s goal and made a number of important stops throughout to keep Inter to just three goals. Indeed, his last-gasp save from Kristian Asllani has kept Barca in the competition.
Sergi Roberto (6/10): Such an important presence on the night. Linked up well with Raphinha, moving inside towards the half space and firing in crosses while the Brazilian stretched the play. Perfect weight of pass for his assist.
Gerard Pique (3/10): Not trusted with the role of bringing out possession, Pique was tasked with using his experience to steer the ship from the back and keep things tight. He didn’t do that, and his error was a glaring one. Looked very off the pace.
Eric Garcia (4/10): Unlucky not to grab an assist in the first half when his low, whipped cross narrowly evaded Pedri’s feet in the box. That was about as good as it got, though, as he completely capitulated when Inter turned it up a gear.
Marcos Alonso (3/10): Gave Dumfries a worrying amount of room to break into. Decent in possession, but not quite as effective or as confident as Roberto.
Sergio Busquets (5/10): The better of the old guard, but not by much. At times, Busquets showed his class with a number of interceptions high up the pitch and line-splitting passes, but he was also caught out just as often and dispossessed regularly. How Frenkie de Jong is unable to get into the XI is a mystery!
Pedri (7/10): His runs beyond Inter’s defensive line from a deep position were integral to forcing back the visitors. Not his brightest display, but an encouraging one nonetheless.
Gavi (5/10): Not as effective as Pedri, but performed a similar job and kept his passing neat and tidy.
Ousmane Dembele (6/10): Twisted and turned when he got a hold of the ball, but seemed to lack the confidence to go on and beat a defender. A few glimpses of very exciting moments when he’d drop a shoulder or take the ball in a tight area, but was surprisingly ineffective after opening the scoring from close range.
Robert Lewandowski (8/10): Isolated when trying to operate as a poacher inside the box, being kept quiet by Inter’s three central defenders. But, cometh the hour, cometh the man. His late goals were not only well taken, but vital.
Raphinha (6/10): Was everywhere for his side and looked comfortable under the Champions League lights. Crucial to the opening goal with his desire to keep the ball in play, and his vision to thread the pass through to Roberto. Shame he didn’t try and steal the headlines himself once or twice.
Subs & Manager
Frenkie de Jong (5/10): Couldn’t stop the rot late on.
Ansu Fati (6/10): Quiet cameo from the Spanish international, who is still trying to get his mojo back.
Alejandro Balde (N/A): Brought on in the 72nd minute for Alonso.
Franck Kessie (N/A): Part of a double-change with Balde but didn’t really make an impact.
Ferran Torres (N/A): Harsh to judge him on just eight minutes of game time.
Xavi (4/10): It started well, but there were too many glaring errors from a tactical sense. Barcelona couldn’t cope with Inter’s counters and they struggled tremendously to break down their opponents before the frantic finale. Not helped by injuries in trying to select a team, but not an excuse with the quality still available to him. For the first time, Xavi is under the spotlight.