Barcelona sit alone atop Group B of the Champions League after Rafinha came back to haunt former club Inter in a 2-0 victory for the Spanish side on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at the Nerazzurri, and he made them rue their decision not to keep him by firing home in the 32nd minute after a fine pass by Luis Suarez, while Jordi Alba rounded out the result in the closing minutes.
The result means Barcelona remain perfect with nine points at the midway point, but all is not lost for Inter as they sit five points up on PSV and Tottenham for second, as they settled for a 2-2 draw in the group’s other match on the night.
Barcelona took the lead in deserved fashion in the 32nd minute after dominating possession and pinning Inter back for most of the half. Suarez fed a pinpoint cross to former Inter man Rafinha, and the Brazilian guided the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Inter’s best chance came from a thumping Vecino half-volley that went over the bar, while the half closed with Coutinho’s free-kick going just wide of the goal after a Miranda deflection.
The Nerazzurri started the second half with a renewed sense of purpose, as their decision to press Barcelona higher up the pitch caused the home side problems.
Matteo Politano – who came on for an anonymous Antonio Candreva – saw a cross-turned-shot palmed away at the last moment by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He followed it up with a shot over the bar from close range after Barcelona gave the ball away under pressure.
Inter’s resurgence proved fleeting however, as the home side regained control of the match from there.
Suarez and Lenglet – after a stunning errant pass by Asamoah – forced Handanovic into great saves, while Coutinho smacked the ball off the bar after a dangerous counter by Barcelona.
The final blow came in the 83rd minute via Jordi Alba. Ivan Rakitic picked out the Spaniard, and he ran into space before sending an angled drive into the far bottom corner to seal all three points for Barcelona.
Nainggolan’s missing drive evident
The Belgian missed out through injury, and his absence was clear to anyone who watches Inter regularly.
Borja Valero just doesn’t have the legs or drive that Nainggolan does, and it resulted in the Nerazzurri’s only chances coming from wide positions. Here’s hoping he recovers in time for the return match.
All is not lost for Inter
Barcelona’s last loss to an Italian side at the Camp Nou dates back to 2003 – a run of 13 matches – and ending that run was always going to be difficult for Luciano Spalletti’s men.
However, their goal of reaching the next round remains on track given they hold a five-point advantage over PSV and Tottenham at the halfway point of the group stage. Given this is a side still reasserting itself after years in the wilderness, that shouldn’t be lost on fans.