A double from Uruguayan Luis Suarez inflicted a first defeat of the season for Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan side as they threw away a one goal lead at the Nou Camp. Off to a dream start after three minutes thanks to Lautaro Martinez, Inter were wasteful throughout the first half and should’ve added to their tally before the break.
A tactical switch from Ernesto Valverde changed the game in Barcelona’s favour, and a brilliant individual performance from Lionel Messi carried Barcelona to the win, to put them 2nd in the table after two games.
Barcelona lined up 4-3-3, with makeshift left back Nelson Semedo filling in for the injured Jordi Alba and Junior Firpo. Lionel Messi returned from injury, as part of a star studded front three with Suarez and Antoine Griezemann.
Romleu Lukaku missed out through injury as Conte made a number of changes from Saturday’s 3-1 win over Sampdoria. Alexis Sanchez led the line with Martinez, whilst Diego Godin returned to centre back.
Inter couldn’t have asked for a better start, shocking Barcelona by taking the lead after 2 minutes through Lautaro Martinez. With Barcelona playing a high line, the move was indicative of how Inter created a number of chances throughout the first half, as impressive link up play and good understanding between Inter’s front three was evident.
With Barcelona’s full backs pushing high to try and provide an attacking outlet, it would leave Inter’s two strikers 2 v 2 with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet at the back. A risky tactic given their lack of pace, Inter were able to immediately capitalise.
Sanchez’s movement off of Pique was excellent, and a theme throughout the first half, as he dropped off into the space between Barcelona’s defence and midfield, dragging Pique out with him.
This created space in behind for Martinez, who subsequently moved into it, getting a run on centre back Lenglet. Able to use his pace, and found expertly by midfielder Sensi, he ran through and finished well to give Inter an early lead.
A similar move showed this link up once again, as well as how they looked to create overloads when attacking quickly on the break. This time the roles were reversed, with Sanchez dropping off into the space (shown showing for the ball below), allowing Martinez to get 1 v 1 with Pique. A fantastic cross from Candreva found him, but he was denied by a superb save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Inter’s impressive attacking display in the first half came as a result of a high risk tactic, where they looked to play through Barcelona’s press. As shown by the influence maps below, Inter were sitting deep, inviting the Barcelona press on. They drew on the Barcelona full backs in particular, and through quick one touch passing, were able to break the press.
They would break as a front three, with Barella and one of the wing backs looking to join the attack. There were two brilliant examples of how effective this was in the first half, and as a result Inter really should’ve been further in front at half time.
Firstly, there was the Sensi chance, which came as a result of a brilliant passing move. Moving the ball quickly with one touch passing, the move started with goalkeeper Handonovic, before exploiting the Barcelona high press down the Inter left. The image below shows the space Inter were able to exploit after they had played through the press
Asamoah made the most of the space left by Sergi Roberto at right back, providing an overlap for Sensi, which allowed him to cut in and shoot.
Barcelona struggled to create in the first half, and this was down to two main reasons. As shown above on the influence map, Inter opted to defend deep, and without the ball set up as a back five, as shown below.
Even when breaking this would morph into a four, to make sure that if they lost the ball, they couldn’t be broken down by any quick transitions on the ball. As a result, in the first half Barcelona struggled to create many goalscoring opportunities, being restricted to mostly shots outside the box, which resulted in an xG of 0.34, compared to Inter’s 0.61.
The other driving factor was that Inter had a lot more of the ball than expected, and this helped by Sensi’s first half performance. Tasked with man marking Sergio Busquets, he marked the Spanish midfielder out of the game, looking to press, along with Martinez and Sanchez, and this pressure forced him into a number of uncharacteristic mistakes, as well as forcing the midfielder to play deeper than he would’ve liked. Sensi’s average pitch position in the first half highlighted this, playing narrow and as high as the strikers, essentially making up a front three.
Barcelona were forced into an early tactical switch in the second half, as Sensi continued to stop Busquets from exerting influence over the game. As a result, Arturo Vidal was introduced and this helped swing the game in Barcelona’s favour.
Frenkie de Jong dropped into a deeper role, with his more progressive passing and ability to drive on the ball evident, whilst Vidal linked further up with Messi and Suarez. Vidal’s influence was further demonstrated by his ability to find Messi, leading the pass combinations in the second half, finding the Argentine 14 times throughout the second half.
Barcelona quickly started to create more chances, and this was in part down to the increased tempo of their attacks. Messi started to dictate the play, and this was demonstrated by the number of passes in the attacking third in the second half, the most of anyone on the pitch.
Inter also struggled to get out their own half in the second half, as Barcelona looked to push higher as Arthur and De Jong helped cut the supply off between midfield and attack, whilst their high press was much more organised and effective.
Arthur comfortably topped ball recoveries in the second half with nine, whilst passing statistics and possession stayed roughly the same across the two halves, it was down to being able to find Messi more effectively throughout.
Luis Suarez’s goal came from a patient attack from Barcelona, in which Inter’s shape was good throughout. They were undone by a moment of class, however Suarez’s struggling against Godin and De Vrij, he pulled off deeper to the back post onto Candreva, who left too large a gap to the Uruguayan.
When the ball was played back, Inter were too slow to press up, allowing Vidal the space to pick out Suarez in acres of space.
A rare mistake from Conte’s well drilled defence, Suarez had the space to fire home expertly and equalise for Barcelona.
Conte made substitutions throughout the second half as he looked to regain control on the game, as well as adding further defensive solidity to try see out the game. The high intensity of the first half had evidently tired his team out somewhat as well, and this fatigue was evident as they struggled to counter attack at the same speed, as well as making various mistakes against the press.
Roberto Gagliardini was introduced after 66 minutes for Alexis Sanchez as the Chilean looks to build up his fitness, adding extra steel to the Inter midfield, before Danilo D’Ambrosio replaced Antonio Candreva on 71 minutes as a reaction to the introduction of Ousmane Dembele, replacing the ineffectual Antoine Griezemann. The final change was like for like up front, with Sensi being replaced by Politano, as Conte looked to keep energy levels high and see out the game.
The influence maps below highlighted the issues Inter had in the second half as they were forced deeper and deeper by Barcelona. Messi’s increased influence also forced Asamoah much deeper and meant that they lost an outlet in the second half, and the option of counter attacking that was exploited in the first half by Sensi’s break gradually disappeared, before being their own downfall for Suarez’s winner, as they were caught out of shape.
As touched upon above, Suarez’s winner came from Inter being caught out shape for one of the first times in the second half. As shown below, Asamoah has been caught high up the pitch, as well as the midfield being bypassed by the quick transition.
Asamoah was beaten far too easily 1v1 on the half way line, leaving them exposed furthermore.
Messi was then able to drive on, committing a number of defenders, leaving Suarez 1v1.
His first touch took the defender out the game, and he was able to slot home. This highlighted the dangers of over committing going forward for Inter, as for the only time in the game their midfield was caught out of position, and they were made to pay by Messi and Suarez’s telepathic relationship and individual class.
Inter ran out of steam as the class of Barcelona, and in particular Lionel Messi, shone through. It leaves them with an uphill task to make the knock out stages, and the double header against Dortmund has added importance following their victory in Prague last night.
Inter continue this unrelenting period with a home game in front of a sell out Serie A crows against Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus, as they look to make it seven from seven in Serie A before the international break.
A 3-0 win for Juventus has helped mask their indifferent start to the season, and Saturday represents another huge opportunity for Conte’s men to make a telling statement.