Perhaps the most curious thing about FC Barcelona’s decade-long dynasty is how predictable it all is. How, for all the churn and drama and turnover, nothing really seems to change. How it’s still the same players, delivering when it really matters.
Barca really rather needed three points on Wednesday to get its halting Champions League campaign off the ground, following a 0-0 stalemate at Borussia Dortmund in its opener. But Inter Milan had ample opportunity to build out a large lead in the first half.
When the final whistle went, however, the scoreboard looked much like it had all over Europe for year after year after year.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Inter Milan
Suarez 58’, 84’ Martinez 3’
Once more, Barca was saved by a trio of 32-year-olds to win a scintillating game of soccer. Luis Suarez, seemingly in a tortuous decline from his jitterbug prime yet still ruthlessly effective, volleyed home an Arturo Vidal cross from outside the box. And then he took a marvelous touch and simple finish to cap Lionel Messi’s preparatory work for the late winner. It had been the insertion of Vidal and his grit into the game for Sergio Busquets that shifted the tide in the second half.
They had done it again. The veterans. The old war horses. The men who really should have been displaced by now, or at least challenged, by all those sparkling and pricey young acquisitions that Barca has recruited during one transfer window after another. Barca still relies on Messi, on Suarez, even on Vidal some days, a few years after he was written off.
In just the third minute, Antonio Conte’s well-coached Inter pounced on a midfield turnover with a quick counter, finished off by a strong individual effort by Lautaro Martinez (via Bleacher Report):
An Argentinian no. 10 stuns the Nou Camp: Lautaro Martinez pic.twitter.com/TK09lDuEwi— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 2, 2019
Barca had all the possession, of course. But Inter was efficient – just immaculately organized, leaving no space at all in its final third. Inter absorbed pressure comfortably and steamed away when it got the chance.
The Italian side had the best first-half chances, too. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen saved a strong Martinez header. Stefano Sensi’s shot zoomed just high. A goal was disallowed. And Inter played through Barca’s lines all too simply:
Look how Inter get out of their half 😍 pic.twitter.com/7auujyOMys— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 2, 2019
It took Messi, just back from yet another injury, until well into the second half to get going. But his fellow veterans tied things back up. Suarez can still summon those game-changing moments from the bottomless pits of his desire. Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic never had a chance:
Luis Suarez. Volley. Outside the area. 🌟 pic.twitter.com/2D79g5tEBb— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 2, 2019
Nor did he, really, when Messi finally undertook a long, mazy run, beating four men before laying off to Suarez. The Uruguayan cut open the heart of the defense with a splendid first touch and had it easy from there:
The first touch from Suárez 🤯 pic.twitter.com/UTqp1sCmRy— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) October 2, 2019
Still, Barca’s reliance on its veterans is a problem. It has no real alternatives. Alternatives to Messi, mostly. Alternatives on the days when the little Argentine is injured or not fully fit or simply not at his very best.
That much has been starkly evident in this nascent season. Messi has already missed six weeks with calf and adductor injuries. When he has played, he’s not been himself. And so it’s come as no surprise that Barca got off to its worst La Liga start in many years, winning just two of its first five games, before winning the sixth and seventh.
It was only a pair of flashes of inspiration from Suarez that saved Barcelona from another loss on Wednesday, abetted by the other veterans. The trouble is that as Messi and Suarez go – and mostly Messi, to be honest – so does Barca. Most games, it’s Messi or bust; Suarez or nothing. The club used to be awash in attacking weapons. Messi and Suarez were merely the most lethal of them. Now they’re pretty much the entire arsenal.
No matter how much money the club spends on pricey forwards and playmakers to support Messi and reduce Suarez’s workload, when neither one is on their game the probability of a win plummets. And that’s concerning for the Catalans. Because they can’t be relied on to dominate 50 games per season any longer.
They didn’t dominate a profligate Inter either. And on many other days, Barca would have fared a lot worse than a narrow win.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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