Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi bailed Barcelona out of jail at the end of a thrilling clash with Inter but, on the evidence of what we saw at Camp Nou, it won’t be long before the Catalans get themselves into trouble again.
The Uruguayan hitman’s volley – brutal and balletic in equal measure – ripped past Samir Handanovic to level the scores after Lautaro Martinez’s opener. Then, Messi’s sublime dribble created Suarez’s second as Barcelona took three points from a game they could easily have lost.
However, two of the game’s giants combining to turn defeat into victory only papers over the cracks in this Barca side. At times, Barca’s deficiencies were brutally exposed by Antonio Conte’s Inter machine – which is well oiled already, despite the coach only arriving a short while ago. By contrast, Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde – who is into his third season in the job – don’t seem to have much of a plan beyond ‘Give the ball to Messi’.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, back after his second injury of the season, completed 90 minutes but looked understandably uncalibrated for much of the game. And yet, the plan, such as it is, ultimately worked. Though only just. It was an Argentine No. 10 who opened the scoring but not the one 86,000 Barcelona fans in attendance would have expected.
Instead it was Martinez, a forward occasionally linked with the Catalans in the gossip columns, who broke the deadlock after 121 seconds.
Alexis Sanchez won the ball in midfield as he charged down Gerard Pique before Martinez burst through the Barca backline to finish coolly after holding off Clement Lenglet.
The Catalans have netted the opening goal in just three of their nine games across La Liga and the Champions League so far this season, and their slow starts are clearly something they must work on.
Inter also hit them on the break repeatedly, with Martinez twice coming close to netting a second, while Nicolo Barella had a goal-bound shot blocked and Stefano Sensi fired over when well placed.
As Inter’s counters became increasingly dangerous, it seemed likely they would become the first visiting team to win a group game at the Camp Nou since Rubin Kazan back in 2009. Barcelona’s spine looked weak, with Gerard Pique picking up his sixth yellow card of the season already.
Ahead of the veteran defender, Sergio Busquets struggled up against Inter’s young and energetic midfielders and it was only after he was taken off, with Arthur dropping back alongside Frenkie de Jong, that Barcelona hit their stride.
The equaliser came out of nowhere, though, with Suarez’s remarkable volley giving Barcelona belief where previously there was none.
It was a badly needed moment of individual quality, a goal which came by chance, rather than design, which only reflected even more poorly on Valverde and his tactics are concerned. Suarez’s overall performance was worryingly poor but he still stepped up to the mark when his side needed him most. The great players always do.
However, it must be said that the introduction of Arturo Vidal and Ousmane Dembele for the overwhelmed Busquets and ineffective Griezmann also changed the game, so credit where it’s due for Valverde.
Vidal and Dembele are, of course, are extremely unpredictable but they helped dislodge Conte’s stubborn defence. But without Messi’s dribble – which spanned half the length of the pitch – the second goal wouldn’t have been possible.