Barcelona’s wild 3-3 draw with Inter means the club is still in the Champions League, but realistically not for much longer.
Inter will qualify if they beat the group’s whipping boys Viktoria Plzen next time out. The game is an early kick-off which means Barca could be gone by the time they take to the Camp Nou pitch against Bayern Munich.
It was a chastening night for the club after a summer spending spree that brought so much hope and expectation. There had even been talk that Barca could really challenge for the title, but they now look destined for another go at the Europa League.
Barca have had their moments in Europe this season and their fair share of bad luck. Xavi said after the game the competition has been “cruel” to Barcelona and injuries, a tough group, individual errors and poor refereeing have all proved costly.
Yet the simple truth is that Barca haven’t been good enough once again and, having won just one of four group games so far, simply do not deserve to go through.
This result will also have far-reaching implications, not least financially, with early estimates claiming Barca will lose around €20 million from not making it out of the group.
The spotlight will be very much on veterans Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets after high-profile mistakes. Barcelona were 1-0 up and in good shape when Pique made the kind of mistake that leaves you rather speechless.
The center-back had played everyone onside and then stepped up, completely unaware of Nicolo Barella, who stole in and crashed home an equalizer despite the best efforts of Gavi to stop him.
More mistakes followed as Lautaro Martinez and Robin Goosens scored for Inter. Busquets in particular was guilty of giving the ball away before the second goal. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was also needed to pull off a string of fine saves to prevent the hosts from netting even more.
Pique’s only playing because of injuries to Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, and Andreas Christensen, and this performance showed exactly why. You suspect this might have been his last ever appearance in Europe’s top competition too.
Xavi has made it clear this season that he’s not banking on Pique and Alba but has remained adamant that Busquets is and will continue to be a key player for him. Will that now change after this result?
Another question a lot of people will be wondering is what exactly does Xavi see in Marco Alonso? The Chelsea man was brought in on a free transfer in the summer but was poor again on Wednesday and is looking an increasingly curious signing.
Alejandro Balde was benched on a Champions League night once more but did come on in the second half. Unsurprisingly he made an impact and you couldn’t help but wonder, again, why didn’t he start?
You suspect Xavi went for experience, particularly as he had to field a patched up backline in such a crucial match, but Balde has been one of the revelations of the season and has not let Xavi down yet.
There aren’t many crumbs of comfort that Barca fans can take from his game, but the sight of Robert Lewandowski getting back on the scoresheet was certainly one.
The Poland international had gone two whole games without a goal, a veritable drought for a man of his quality, but did not give it up against Inter. He was heavily marked all night long but still scored twice and did his best to give the hosts hope of a comeback.
It wasn’t to be but the sight of Lewandowski scoring in the 82nd minute and then again in stoppage time and urging his teammates back to restart quickly was heartening.
14 – Robert Lewandowski has scored 14 goals this season in all competitions. Only Erling Braut Haaland (20) has scored more among the players from the top five European leagues. Predator. pic.twitter.com/96nbLgL7dJ
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 12, 2022
Barcelona’s morale will need lifting ahead of El Clasico but Lewandowski’s performance will give the team optimism that they can beat Los Blancos at the Bernabeu again.
The Poland international has already admitted he can’t wait to play in El Clasico and there’s no doubt a fired-up Lewandowski will give Los Blancos plenty to think about.
Of course, heading to the Bernabeu after a poor result in Europe is really not the best way to prepare for one of the biggest games of the season.
Xavi will certainly have his work cut out rousing his troops after such a demoralizing result which showed that his team is still some way off competing with Europe’s best.
“There are other competitions, La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Super Copa. We have to insist, persist, believe,” said the Barcelona boss after the game.
And for all Barcelona’s European troubles, Xavi’s side still haven’t lost in the league and have only conceded once. There’s also hope that Jules Kounde may be back which would be a huge boost.
The downside is that Barca haven’t looked great since the international break and may be banking on the old cliche about form going out of the window in a derby.
Yet a win would move Barcelona three points clear of Real Madrid and prove some consolation for the fans.
Lose and suddenly an October fixture list that includes games against Villarreal, Athletic, Bayern and Valencia looks very daunting indeed.