Luciano Spalletti confessed Barcelona would be an easier prospect to face without injured Lionel Messi, but it turns out La Pulga was simpler to replace than Radja Nainggolan.
Milanese fans who travelled to Catalunya tried to put the Treble memories to their back of their minds once they saw the Catalan line-up. Inter have often been guilty of starting games at their opposition’s pace, but they looked controlled and at times a match for their illustrious opponents.
As the game went on, the Spanish showed their quality even without their revered Messi, as they gained more of the possession and became increasingly dangerous. This was made evident when ex-Inter loaner Rafinha opened the scoring for Barcelona.
Under the bright lights at the Camp Nou, it was hard to see what Inter could do more as a collective, but as time went on, Luciano Spalletti must have started to realise that his team had one huge deficiency. Borja Valero, despite his age, can show his class and technical ability against lesser opposition, even changing a game. When facing elite teams, it’s a different story. The drive, industry and power of Nainggolan was the obvious miss in the Milanese squad.
Put simply, Barcelona missed Messi and had options. Inter missed Nainggolan and potentially had options, but didn’t use them.
Spalletti’s side are growing and came away from the Camp Nou with pride intact, albeit without the result. What do they take from this? Potentially, quite a lot. The Catalans have often destroyed better sides, and yet Inter kept them relatively quiet. Are they as good as Barcelona? Of course not, but the game showed that Spalletti’s side could go to Spain’s most intimidating ground and compete in the Champions League.
Inter have been for many years been desperate to be back where they say they belong. Well tonight, despite the result, they justified that and played with competence, whilst exhibiting a good structure. There was no ‘Vecino time’ but that not a realistic long-term prospect, if we are honest with ourselves. Instead, Inter look professional, progressive and pragmatic, Barcelona respected them. Sometimes you can move forward in defeat if you show you are a worthy combatant.
What certainly was impressive for Inter in their defeat, was that Spalletti has made the Milanese pragmatic, physical and what is more tactically astute. It is something Inter and their fans should perhaps embrace.
Yes, it is true that the Massimo Moratti always wanted that ‘little bit of Alvaro Recoba’ magic, that chance to leave their fans thunderstruck by signing Ronaldo, or trying but failing with countless other ‘mercurial talents’.
Historically, their success has come from stoicism and good defending. Helenio Herrera, Giovanni Trapattoni and Jose Mourinho, this is when they have risen to the incredible heights and this arguably is where they are going again. Yes, they lost to Barcelona, but this does not mean they haven’t improved by doing so.