Football Features

“No Messi? No problem” – Ansu Fati steals the show as a young Barcelona side beat Inter Milan

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:30, 10 December 2019

In an intriguing night of football, a second string Barcelona side beat Inter Milan 1-2 in San Siro.

As they were already confirmed as Champions League Group F winners, the Blaugrana headed to Milan with the majority of their stars nowhere to be seen. Leo Messi and Gerard Piqué were back in Barcelona, Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong were on the bench. Ivan Rakitic wore the captain’s armband and Jean-Clair Todibo, Carles Alena and Carles Perez all saw starts. This didn’t look like a side capable of handling the Serie A leaders who very much needed to win.

The way the game started, that felt correct. Lautaro Martinez was absolutely sensational on the night with almost every single touch he took. The young Argentine has been linked with the role of Luis Suárez’s successor and despite Inter losing tonight he showed just why.

Lautaro was relentless in his approach. All muscle and snapping pressure. Defenders got no rest with him around, his pressing was constant and his movement into space so intelligent. The way he battled the Barcelona centre-backs (who were all bigger than him) to sustain attacks or keep them going despite little help from his team-mates was vintage Suárez. The unorthodox shots? Vintage Suárez. The hold-up play to bring team-mates into things (like Romelu Lukaku’s goal)? Vintage Suárez.

But Lautaro couldn’t get himself a goal, nor could he help Inter get a crucial second. And part of that was down to Jean-Clair Todibo. The 19-year-old centre-back was making just his fifth appearance of the season; although watching this one has to wonder why. The tall Frenchman has been likened to Raphael Varane and you can see why.

Todibo is an absolute Rolls Royce of a player. He physically battled every Inter player that came his way, getting the better of most of them even if Lautaro gave him a great scrap. He headed the ball well (5 aerial duels won) he tackled well (8 tackles made) he dribbled out from the back with serene assurance (playing a key role in the build-up to the opening goal). He was a titan.

Further up the field for Barcelona despite the veteran presence it was the youngsters who stole the show. Moussa Wague and Junior Firpo were out wide, and for Wague especially this was a chance to show what he can do as he doesn’t have the luxury of the starter ahead of him being injured. And Wague took his chance well, showing tremendous defensive diligence and attacking well, albeit his crossing was a bit scattershot (but then there was rarely someone in the box).

In central midfield Carles Alena had the most touches in the game (110), as well as attempting and completing the most passes (78/93). In fact Alena made more passes in Inter’s half than any Inter made in the game, period! The young Catalan kept things ticking over and showed why he also needs to play more; the way he linked with Frenkie de Jong after the Dutchman came on was just delightful, and it’s no surprise that he created the most chances in the game (4).

In attack the goals also came from young talents. Carles Perez opened the scoring with a rasping shot low into the far corner. The youngster was making his Champions League debut but played with a lot of confidence and his goal will do him the world of good. He may not be a superstar but he could be a crucial squad player for years to come.

One player that is surely destined to be a superstar is Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old came off the bench late in the game and completely bent it to his will. Just one minute after appearing he played a sharp pass into Luis Suárez and when the Uruguayan laid it back into his path Ansu stepped forward and, with Messi-like confidence, arrowed it low into the opposite corner of the net.

Samir Handanovic could do nothing. Barcelona were victorious. And Ansu Fati is now the youngest goalscorer in Champions League history, breaking a record that has stood longer than he’s been alive. This boy is so, so special and it was fitting that in a game where Barcelona’s youngsters stood out that their youngest talent had the final word. No Messi? No problem. Ansu Fati’s got this.

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The rest of today’s Champions League action

  • RB Salzburg 0-2 Liverpool: The game was end-to-end from first whistle to last as both sides missed a host of great chances. In the end 100 seconds of goalkeeping madness saw Liverpool bag the goals they needed to secure their spot in the last 16.
  • Napoli 4-0 Genk: Carlo Ancelotti’s men breezed by their Belgian opponents with Arkadiusz Milik bagging a first-half hat-trick as Genk’s 17-year-old goalkeeper (the youngest in competition history) endured a European debut to forget. Quite incredibly, Ancelotti was sacked shortly after the final whistle.
  • Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Slavia Prague: Dortmund started brightly and took the lead but they failed to extend it and got hit with a Slavia suckerpunch. An excellent Sancho assist returned the lead to them and they held on despite a red card to qualify ahead of Inter.
  • Chelsea 2-1 Lille: The Blues weren’t messing around in their must-win clash. They dominated from start to finish, scoring early on through Tammy Abraham and doubling their lead through captain Cesar Azpilicueta. Ex-Chelsea man bagged a consolation for Lille but it couldn’t stop the Blues from progressing.
  • Ajax 0-1 Valencia: Valencia scored a lovely goal in the first-half through Rodrigo but but spent the second period hanging on for dear life as Ajax laid siege to their goal. Los Che managed to hold out though and incredibly finished top of the group.
  • Benfica 3-0 Zenit St. Petersburg: Zenit’s awful away record in Europe remained present as Benfica dispatched them handily and dumped them out of the competition.
  • Lyon 2-2 RB Leipzig: Lyon had qualification in their own hands but two first-half penalties from group-leaders Leipzig sucked the wind from their sails. The French side refused to give in, then in the second-half Houssem Aouar and Memphis Depay pulled Les Gones level and sent them into the last 16.
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