Hakan Calhanoglu’s fine low drive in injury time of the first half was enough to give Inter Milan a crucial Champions League victory over Barcelona.
With Bayern Munich having beaten both sides and riding high on top of Group C, this game, and the one between the sides next Wednesday, looked crucial in deciding who will join the German giants in the knockout stages.
Neither side were particularly threatening in the first half, despite Barcelona dominating possession, and the goal came out of nowhere when the Turkish midfielder using a defender as a shield drove his shot across his body leaving Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.
Barcelona were unlucky not to equalise in the second half as Ousmane Dembele saw an effort come back off the post and Pedri was denied an equaliser by VAR after Andre Onana’s flap at a cross struck the hand of Ansu Fati at point blank range before the midfielder turned the ball home.
Then in injury time it seemed like Denzel Dumfries may have handled the ball in front of Ansu Fati, but despite one television replay suggesting this could have been the case, VAR ruled there was not enough conclusive evidence to overturn the decision.
The win leaves Barcelona desperate for a victory next week at the Camp Nou or they will be facing a second straight year without qualifying from the group stages. Inter lie second in Group C with six points, three behind leaders Bayern
Xavi needs to address creative issues – While a year late, Robert Lewandowski has replaced and, at this stage of their careers, will surpass the goals Lionel Messi would have scored had he stayed at Barcelona. They are though still sorely lacking anyone to provide the quality of his passing in the final third. While they can retain the ball in a manner reminiscent of the fabled days of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, when they reach the opponent’s penalty area things too often there is little to concern defences. Raphinia, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati can all provide excitement but none look like putting balls on a plate for Robert Lewandowski. At the weekend he had to create his own goal and tonight if he caught any of his former side before this match, he would have become wistful thinking about the chances he was presented with for the last eight years. Maybe moving Pedri forward will be the answer. With the return match and the Classico around the corner, Xavi will have to come up with something.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Hakan Calhanoglu (Inter Milan) – Considering the pedigree of the teams on show, there was little excitement on show but Calhanoglu put in a consummate midfield performance. He made more tackles than any other midfielder, he was accurate with his passing, and he had Inter’s best two shots of the night. The first, from fully 30 yards, ter Stegen tipped over the bar and the second split the teams.
Inter: Onana 6; Skriniar 7, De Vrij 7, Bastoni 7; Darmian 7, Barella 7, Calhanoglu 8*, Dimarco 7; Mkhitaryan6, Lautaro Martinez 6, Correa 6.
Subs: Dzeko 6, Gosens 6, Asllani 6, Acerbi 6, Dumfries 5.
Barcelona: ter Stegen 7; Roberto 7, Christensen 6, Garcia 6, Alonso 6; Gavi 6, Busquets 6, Pedri 6; Raphinha 5, Lewandowski 5, Dembele 6.
Subs: Fati 6, Balde 6, Pique 6, Kessie 6.
45+2′ GOAL FOR INTER! Calhanoglu scores his first Champions League goal for five years. He drove across his body inside the post towards ter Stegen’s right giving the keeper no chance.
62′ OFF THE POST! Pedri squares the ball to Dembele who shoots with his left foot and it comes straight back off the near post. Maybe a touch from Onana on the way though it didn’t seem to alter the flight.
67′ GOAL FOR BARCELONA! Pedri nudges home from close range after Onana fails to get enough contact to clear Dembele’s cross.
69′ GOAL DISALLOWED! A handball from Fati. He was very close to the keeper who pushed the ball but his hand was up. It still seems harsh.
90+1′ DID DUMFRIES HANDLE IN THE BOX? Sergi Roberto put the ball into the box and Dumfries got to the ball before Fati who immediately appealed for a penalty. It is being checked now.
90+2′ NO PENALTY! That is controversial. From one television angle it looked like it struck his hand just in front of Fati’s head. Perhaps not conclusive enough though.