By DailyNewsUG Correspondent
Barcelona are on the brink of a group-stage Champions League exit for the second successive season after being held to a draw by Inter Milan in a breathless and high-octane game at the Nou Camp.
Having been beaten in the San Siro last week, Xavi’s side went into the game knowing that they realistically needed to win to maintain hope of progressing from Group C, with teams on the same points split by their head-to-head record.
With Bayern already through, an Inter Milan home win on Wednesday, 26 October (17:45), against bottom side Viktoria Plzen will confirm Barca’s elimination.
Barcelona boss Xavi said: “We’re depending on another team to go through. They are our mistakes, we have to improve them. That’s the reality. The [improvement] process is longer than we thought in Europe.
“There are other competitions, La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Super Copa. We have to insist, persist, believe.
“When you draw at home with these fans, with this atmosphere, it is my fault. I am angry. My feeling is that this competition has been, and is still being, cruel with us.”
Barcelona took the lead just before half-time when Raphinha did well to keep the ball in, before threading through for Sergi Roberto, who squared for Ousmane Dembele to tap home.
It cued joyous and extravagant celebrations from boss Xavi and the whole Barcelona dugout but that soon turned to despair in the second half.
Nicolo Barella latched onto an Alessandro Bassani dinked ball and lashed into the roof of the net to pull Inter level, before Lautaro Martinez chested a right-wing cross from Hakan Calhanoglu inside Eric Garcia, with his effort hitting both posts before going over the line.
It led to a cauldron of noise at the Nou Camp, and that pressure eventually told when Poland striker Robert Lewandowski saw a header fall back at his feet, and his deflected effort squeezed past Andre Onana.
From there the game descended into chaos.
Inter took the lead again as Onana cleared quickly for Martinez, who squared for Robin Gosens to lash home and leave Barcelona out of the competition again.
However, that was not the end of the drama, as Lewandowski rose highest to meet Garcia’s cross from the right and head past Onana and keep the hosts’ hopes alive again.
Inter then had two chances to win it on the break as Kristjan Asllani was put through but Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved with his legs, before Gosens saw a header saved.
Barca pay price for defensive deficiencies
Throughout the game, but particularly in the second half, Inter were able to cut through Barcelona at will.
Gerard Pique came in at the heart of defence because of injuries, but he was at fault for Barella’s goal, misjudging the flight of the ball, before Garcia was easily beaten for the second goal.
The third goal came from one straight ball, and Martinez was able to cross along the entire width of the penalty area for Gosens to lash home.
After the remarkable 92nd-minute equaliser from Lewandowski, Barca pushed forward, leaving large gaps for Inter to exploit.
If Simone Inzaghi’s side had been more clinical Barcelona would be out in the group stages for the second successive season, after a run of 17 years in the knockout stages.
There were promising signs, with summer signing Raphinha impressing on the right, and Lewandowski again demonstrating the prolific scoring ability he’s shown throughout his career, but their defensive issues against top-level sides will be of major concern to Xavi.
Barcelona won’t have long to regroup either. They are unbeaten so far in La Liga and sit top but face Real Madrid – also unbeaten and separated from their rivals only by goal difference – on Sunday in the first El Clasico of the season.
‘Barca not far off, but not ready to compete reliably’ – analysis
This will be a big disappointment because the financial situation is critical to the club and therefore so is advancing in the Champions League. It means many millions. It’s now a big setback.
I don’t think he’s [Xavi] under pressure but we have to know that the team is under construction. The team has talent but that talent is in their 20s or their 30s. The team lacks talent from the ages 25-29.
We saw a fragile team in defence, with many missing defenders. The team is under construction and he wants time and for the younger players to gain experience.
Lewandowski scored two goals but he’s 35. In two years time, Barcelona will probably be a more reliable team.
This group was very difficult. The Champions League pulls you to your limit and it’s a very physical competition. A few months ago, we were saying they’re a broken club. There’s been big investment but not enough, they need more physical players in the Champions League. Maybe three or four more.
They’re not far off but they’re either too young or too old to compete at this level reliably.