Assi di Coppe: Suarez, Messi Sentence Inter at Camp Nou

For almost one hour, Inter lived the dream of breaking the curse of the Camp Nou, then Luis Suarez’s brilliant double plummeted them into a recurring nightmare. Inter’s second Champions League match in Group F ended 2-1 for the Blaugrana despite Lautaro Martinez’s opener after two minutes. It was the first goal for the Nerazzurri in Barcelona’s den in 50 years, but little help it did them.

The drought will continue for some more time, and even if Antonio Conte’s band rattled off a shimmering performance in the Catalan temple of football, their Champions League run risks being severely compromised after two games only.  

A pity, considering the direction the match was taking. The tiki taka had a black-and-blue flavor tonight. Well, a pale blue one, if truth be told, as the Milanese club also took the chance to offer a new sample of their well-known bad taste for second kits wearing an improbable baby-blueish jersey.  

In the middle of the pitch, youngsters Stefano Sensi and Nicolo’ Barella towered like two veterans, showing that they have already fully assimilated Antonio Conte’s football verbo. On the forward line, El Toro Lautaro Martinez was an enigma that Gerard Pique’ and his fellow defensive partners could not figure out for the full first half.

But in the end, on top of Luis Suarez’s goal instinct, it was injuries to make the difference: The one that kept Romelu Lukaku at bay, and the one that risked ruling out Lionel Messi. The five-time Ballon d’Or was in Ernesto Valverde’s lineup despite rumors of an alleged muscle sprain. In the second half, he showed the world once again why he is Leo Messi as he darted across the pitch, sneaked past three Inter defenders, and served his Uruguayan teammate the ball for Barcelona’s decisive goal.

Lionel Messi challenged by Milan Skriniar and Marcelo Brozovic, under the supervision of referee Damir Skomina

Before La Pulce could put his stamp on proceedings however, the night at the Camp Nou had been set on fire by an early goal by Lautaro Martinez. The clock had not reached two minutes when Stefano Sensi engaged in a contrast with Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong, prompting the ball to bounce towards the Argentinian number 7.  El Toro dashed past his marker Clément Lenglet to find the right spot in the bottom left corner of Marc-André ter Stegen with a shot fired while falling.

Two minutes in, and one curse was already broken – as never had any Nerazzurro made it to the scorecard when playing at Barca’s home ground.   

Inter’s lightning-quick lead shocked Ernesto Valverde’s side, which failed to take adequate counter measures to the black-and-blue impetus for the full first half. The Nerazzurri defense was overly effective in not leaving any space to the checkered Blaugrana’s assault weaponry, especially to a disoriented Antoine Griezmann. The only challenges for Samir Handanovic came from a few long-distance shots which the Slovenian goalkeeper and captain blocked with ease.

It was Inter, on the other hand, to come closer to update the scorecard. In the 33rd minute, Nicolo’ Barella shot from point-blank range, and it took a desperate slide by Nélson Semedo to deflect his conclusion and prevent the Blaugrana side from collapsing. Four minutes later, Lautaro Martinez challenged again Marc-André ter Stegen with a header, but this time the German goalkeeper pushed the ball back showing some phenomenal reflexes.

A two-goal lead at half time would not have been undeserved for coach Conte’s side, and indeed the Nerazzurri ultimately paid the price for not closing the match when they were fully in control. Things can change fast when you face Barcelona.

Ernesto Valverde drew his trump card as he substituted Sergi Busquets with former Juventus’ midfielder Arturo Vidal. It was the decision of the day, if only for the way it switched the match momentum. In the 58th minute, the Chilean international served Luis Suarez a cross from the right, which the former Liverpool star converted by means of a brilliant right-foot scissors-kick.

Luis Suarez’s brilliant scissors-kick brought Barcelona back in the game after Lautaro Martinez had put the Nerazzurri ahead in the first half

Barcelona took courage and raised their voice. Antoine Griezmann hit the side netting of Handanovic’s goal, then gave way to Ousmane Dembélé – who quickly scared the Nerazzurri with a shot narrowly out of target.

Coach Antonio Conte understood that it was time to cover, and sent in Roberto Gagliardini for an evanescent Alexis Sanchez. But it was too late. With six minutes to go, Lionel Messi suddenly woke up to take three defenders for a walk and serve his attacking partner a golden pass. Luis Suarez stepped in past Diego Godin, beat Samir Handanovic for the second time, and threw Inter to the bottom of the Group F standing.

The Nerazzurri left the Camp Nou with the honor of arms and can look forward to next Sunday’s partitissima against Juventus, but their Champions League run has already taken a darn complex turn. Next home game against Borussia Dortmund is going to be an in-or-out playoff for Antonio Conte.


October 2, 2019 – Champions League 2019-20 Group F

SCORERS: 2′ Lautaro Martinez (I), 58′ Suarez (B), 84′ Suarez (B)

BARCELONA (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet, Semedo; Busquets (53′ Vidal), De Jong, Arthur; Messi, Suárez, Griezmann (66′ Dembélé) (Neto, Rakitic, Todibo, Wagué, Carles Pérez) Coach: Valverde
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Godin, De Vrij, Skriniar; Candreva (81′ D’Ambrosio), Barella, Brozovic, Sensi (79′ Politano), Asamoah; Sanchez (66′ Gagliardini), Lautaro Martinez (Padelli, Ranocchia, Biraghi, Vecino) Coach: Conte

REFEREE: Skomina (Slovenia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Griezmann, Piqué, Sergi Roberto, Vidal (B), Barella, Sanchez, Conte (I); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 3′