Barcelona’s hopes of contesting the Champions League knockout stages hang by a thread after a 3-3 draw with Inter at Camp Nou.
Barca came into this match well aware that only victory would do, given that they found themselves third in Group C, three points behind their opponents in second, after three games. With Inter triumphing 1-0 at San Siro last week, giving themselves an advantage on head-to-head, a win for the visitors would cut short Barca’s Champions League campaign.
The match took on a familiar pattern from the start, Barca dominating the ball and trying to break down their opponents. Inter, meanwhile, tried to hit their hosts on the counter-attack and force them into mistakes in possession.
The visitors required a clearance off the line from Henrikh Mkhitaryan to deny Robert Lewandowski at a corner early on but, with a little over a quarter of an hour gone, they were left to wonder how they hadn’t gone ahead. An inch-perfect free-kick delivery from Hakan Calhanoglu fell perfectly for Edin Dzeko, who thundered a shot onto the underside of the crossbar only for it to ricochet down onto the line and bounce away.
Mkhitaryan and Ousmane Dembele forced saves from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Andre Onana respectively before Inter went close once again. Nicolo Barella beat Gavi to a header in midfield and, suddenly, the Nerazzurri had a three-on-two which ended with Denzel Dumfries firing straight at Ter Stegen.
Barca’s patient build-up play began to pay dividends, however, with Onana fumbling a shot from Sergi Roberto before keeping out Lewandowski on the follow-up. Raphinha and Pedri both went close before, on the 40-minute mark, Dembele broke the deadlock, capitalising on good build-up play from Raphinha and Roberto – and uncharacteristically sleepy defending from Inter – to smash into the net from five yards.
Inter hit back five minutes after the restart after a horrible defensive mistake from Gerard Pique, who left a dangerous delivery from Alessandro Bastoni for Ter Stegen to deal with, only for Barella to ghost in behind him and score. The home crowd went deathly silent when, with 63 minutes on the clock, Calhanoglu picked out Lautaro Martinez on the edge of the area and he pinged one in off the inside of the post.
Lewandowski gave Barca hope with 10 minutes to go. Bastoni failed to clear his initial header, allowing Barca’s top scorer to gather up the ball and leather it past Onana.
Barca pressed hard for a winner, too hard as it turned out. Martinez got in behind on the counter and put through Robin Gosens, with the substitute firing past Ter Stegen.
Just when it looked like the hosts’ Champions League adventure was over, Lewandowski popped up again in injury time to make it 3-3 with a thumping header. Barca couldn’t find a fourth goal, however, and with Inter up against Viktoria Plzen next time out this may turn out to be little more than a stay of execution for the Blaugrana.
Game of the season? Putting aside the permutations, for a moment, it’s worth celebrating a truly ludicrous game of football. There will be few more entertaining spells for the neutral this season than the last 15 minutes, when Barca saved themselves from Champions League oblivion, then damned themselves again, then saved themselves again, for now at least.
Ultimately, having invested so heavily (and riskily) in their squad over the summer, if Barca go out of the competition at the group stage it will be a profound disappointment with potentially far-reaching implications. Even so, this match will live long in the memory for all those who were at Camp Nou to witness it.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona). While Martinez, Calhanoglu and Barella would all be in with a shout on another night, it’s impossible to overlook Lewandowski after his titanic effort late on.
The first strike wasn’t the cleanest by Lewandowski’s standards, but it was still a belter. His header to make it 3-3 was absolutely magnificent, though, the ball hurtling past Onana thanks to a mix of brawn, technique and sheer power of will.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6, Alonso 5, Pique 4, Garcia 6, Roberto 6, Pedri 6, Busquets 5, Gavi 5, Raphinha 6, Lewandowski 9, Dembele 7
Subs: De Jong 6, Fati 5, Balde 5, Kessie 6, Torres 5
Inter: Onana 6, Dimarco 5, Bastoni 6, De Vrij 5, Skriniar 6, Dumfries 6, Barella 8, Calhanoglu 8, Mkhitaryan 5, Martinez 8, Dzeko 5
Subs: Darmian 5, Gosens 7, Bellanova 5, Asllani N/A, Acerbi N/A
9’ OFF THE LINE! At a corner, Lewandowski rises highest and powers a downwards header at goal. Luckily for Inter, Mkhitaryan is on the line to hook it away.
16’ OFF THE CROSSBAR! Inter can’t believe they’re not 1-0 up. The visitors win a free kick and Calhanoglu steps up. The ball falls sweetly for Dzeko, who smashes the underside of the crossbar from close range only for the ball to slam down onto the line and bounce away.
40’ GOAL! After 10 minutes of diligent defending, Inter go to sleep. Raphinha, out wide on the right, plays a simple ball to Roberto, who sets up Dembele to smash into the net from five yards.
50’ GOAL! High drama here. Inter are level after a horrible error from Pique, who leaves a dangerous delivery from Bastoni for Ter Stegen to deal with only for Barella to nip in behind him and rifle home.
63’ GOAL! A spell of chaotic end-to-end football ends with Inter taking the lead through Martinez. Calhanoglu provides the killer ball once again, setting up his team-mate to smash one in off the inside of the post.
82’ GOAL! Barca have their equaliser. Bastoni fails to clear a header from Lewandowski, who gathers up the ball and blasts it past Onana.
89’ GOAL! Wow. Barca could be going out of the Champions League after all, Martinez getting in behind before setting up Gosens to fire past Ter Stegen.
90+2’ GOAL! But wait a minute! Garcia picks out Lewandowski in the box and he heads home to make it 3-3.