Barcelona host Internazionale in key Champions League group match

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 20: supporters of FC Barcelona during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona v Sevilla at the Camp Nou on October 20, 2018 in Barcelona Spain (Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 20: supporters of FC Barcelona during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona v Sevilla at the Camp Nou on October 20, 2018 in Barcelona Spain (Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Barcelona welcome Internazionale to Camp Nou with both sides on maximum points after two games in the Champions League.

The Catalans ended their four-game winless run in the league with a 4-2 win over Sevilla to leapfrog them into top spot, but it was a pyrrhic victory as Lionel Messi fractured his arm, which will rule him out for the next three weeks. Ernesto Valverde now has to find a way to navigate Barcelona to victories over Internazionale and Real Madrid, among others, without their talisman.

His injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Barcelona, but it will show which players are capable of stepping up when it matters and emphasises how he can’t always be there to bail out the Catalans when they need him most. In a sense, it does also take away some of the tactical rigidity for Valverde because there is one less fixed position in the team while the Argentine star is out injured. However, that does come at the expense of his influence in multiple areas, which a number of players will have to make up for.

Inter come into this match fresh from a 1-0 victory over city rivals AC Milan which was their seventh straight win in all competitions. They started the season slowly but Luciano Spalletti appears to have found the winning formula with a solid defence and a clinical attack led by La Masia graduate Mauro Icardi. This will be a huge test for Barcelona but one they mustn’t lose because they can’t afford to concede the advantage to the Italians for the top group spot.

Milan and Tottenham are the toughest teams they have beaten in their current winning spell with neither coming away from home, so this should be a huge test for them as well. This would usually be a very winnable fixture for Barca, but Messi’s absence complicates that significantly. They need to claim top spot in order to get an easier route through the first knockout stages, so a win in one of the fixtures against Inter is pivotal to that.

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This fixture is significant to both clubs because it served as the start of the rivalry between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. They played each other four times in the 2009/10 season due to being in the same group as well as meeting in the semi-finals. Barcelona picked up four points against the Nerazzurri in the group stage but lost 3-2 on aggregate later in the tournament to end their hopes of being the first side to retain the Champions League since it was rebranded in 1992. It has to be acknowledged that Bojan Krkic had a goal incorrectly disallowed which would have won the game late on in the second leg.

Spalletti employs a 4-2-3-1 formation that focuses on moving play to the wings and utilising crosses as the main way of making entries into the box and creating chances as can be read in further detail in this Statsbomb article.

Ivan Perisic and Matteo Politano are the first choice wingers in the squad while Antonio Candreva and Keita Balde are capable deputies. Inter’s slow build-up play suits Barcelona because it gives them chance to revert back to their defensive shape, although they will have to be careful to deny the wingers chance to transition quickly behind the full-backs.

Radja Nainggolan is out injured so Spalletti has the tough task of replacing him in the role behind the striker. It’s an energetically demanding role because he becomes part of the midfield in the defensive shape while also contributing to the attack by linking up the different parts. Borja Valero replaced him in the Milan derby even though he is a different type of midfielder while Lautaro Martinez offers a much more attacking option.

Matias Vecino and Marcelo Brozovic are a solid platform at the base of midfield to screen the defence and aid ball progression while Stefan De Vrij and Milan Skriniar are a solid centre-back pairing. Sime Vrsaljko and Kwadwo Asamoah are both experienced full-backs, so they will be a tough side to break down, especially without Messi. Icardi is the main threat, though, due to his ability to thrive on a limited amount of chances even if he is barely involved in the match such as against Spurs.

Valverde kept Barcelona in a 4-3-3 formation against Sevilla as he substituted on Ousmane Dembele for the injured Messi. Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether he keeps the same set-up against Inter. Dembele’s horrendous second half performance suggests that Malcom or another player will start over him. Gerard Pique can’t afford to make any mistakes in this match like he has in previous games because Icardi will make him pay for it.

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Barcelona certainly have better individuals but it will depend on whether they can work together as a cohesive unit, without Messi, in all phases of play if they are to come away victorious. Sergio Busquets will be key in winning the midfield battle and controlling the tempo of the game.

Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Internazionale