Football Features

Barcelona 2-1 Inter Milan: Luis Suárez is key to Barca’s new siege weapon

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:28, 2 October 2019

In an exciting evening of football, Barcelona came from behind to beat Inter 2-1 at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona conceded just two minutes into the game. Gerard Piqué pushed up high and a deflection off Alexis Sánchez sent the ball screaming through for Lautaro Martinez who finished with supreme authority.

The initial response from the Blaugrana was positive enough, where they pushed up and pinned Inter back into their own half. It looked like an equaliser was on the way, but eventually Inter figured out that Barcelona’s attack was about as threatening as the Teletubbies and began pushing forward on the break repeatedly.

Inter were supreme in the first half and should have added to their lead. Part of it was bad finishing, but they were also denied by a great save from Marc-André Ter Stegen. Still, there appeared to be no chance of Barcelona mounting a comeback with things the way they were, even with Leo Messi dribbling and creating chances for fun. The second half began in a similar mood – but then Ernesto Valverde made a change.

With just eight minutes played in the second half, Valverde withdrew Sergio Busquets and brought on Arturo Vidal. He pushed Busquets and Arthur back into a double pivot and had Vidal play high, just ahead of the Inter defence. Within seconds he had a shot, and then just five minutes after coming on he created Barcelona’s equaliser with a nicely composed central cross.

The scorer of that goal? Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan had spent the preceding 57 minutes trying desperately to manipulate opponents and/or the ball but could get absolutely nowhere with either because athletically he is absolutely finished. He’s lost the half-step of pace that he used to have and now he can do nothing more than lumber around the field. He looked as useless as he has basically all season.

But with Vidal on the field, there was now another body in that central area without pulling one of the wingers infield and helping Inter collapse their defence. That meant that for once Suárez found space with relative ease, allowing Vidal to pick him out. Admittedly what the Uruguayan then did almost defies belief. A searingly spectacular volley, hammering the ball as it fell out of the sky, sending it rocketing low and hovering just off the ground like a Star Wars speeder and into the side of the net. Samir Handanovic stood no chance.

Barcelona continued to hammer Inter, and with just under five minutes to go they took the lead. Inter dared to venture forward in search of a go-ahead goal and this allowed Leo Messi the slivers of daylight he needed. The Argentine humiliated Kwadwo Asamoah and Marcelo Brozovic before skipping inside Milan Skriniar and playing a pass to, hey, Suárez in space again.

This time the Uruguayan couldn’t hit it as Diego Godín was closing him down, so he showed the other trick up his sleeve by faking the shot and touching the ball into the space Godín had just vacated trying to block a shot that never came. Suárez bolted into that space (well, he ran as fast as he can) and finished calmly. Two goals with the combined movement of about five steps – but it had been enough to make the difference, when in the first half the Inter defenders handled him with ease.

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What changed?

Arturo Vidal.

As a possession side that often gets countered on, and can even fall behind, Barcelona have always had to develop siege weapons. Formations and set-ups that allow them to obliterate opponents. Most managers (notably Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique) switched to three men at the back, but Valverde took a leaf out of Frank Rijkaard’s book and switched to a 4-2-3-1.

Having the Chilean playing so high disrupted Inter. He made it harder for defenders to step out and swarm Messi when the Argentine had the ball. Vidal also acted as a relentless and ferocious defensive shield, pressing any Inter out balls. And when the Italians did manage to break by him, it was always into channels where either Arthur or Frenkie de Jong could, along with their full-back, swarm and win the ball back. The system was high risk (if Inter got beyond that second line there was a lot of space to get into) but it worked superbly.

Despite his brilliant brace, Luis Suárez is still a major problem for Barcelona. His movement is shocking (his brace today is as many goals as he has scored in the previous two seasons in Europe) and he struggles in the open field. The scenario that allowed him to thrive in the second half is not one Barcelona will want to replicate. There’s a special sensation to a siege comeback attempt that helps the players, but is also not something that you want to keep on doing over and over again because eventually the players become emotionally exhausted.

In open games Antoine Griezmann with his greater range of athleticism and movement, is a better choice as Barcelona’s lead striker (and needs to be given minutes there to develop chemistry with Leo Messi). But in a tight game? When Barcelona need to reach deep into their bag of tricks and pull out a siege weapon that truly pins opponents back? A siege weapon that can carve open even the most stubborn defence? Arturo Vidal is the pressing phenom and Luis Suárez, with his ridiculous game intelligence and outstanding shooting technique, is the Blaugrana’s most dangerous forward in this spectacular siege weapon.

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