Malcom makes mark, but Icardi saves Inter
Argentina star earns an undeserved point after forgotten signing struck
Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw despite a dominating performance against Inter Milan in a rain-soaked San Siro.
Malcom gave Barca a deserved opener after several close calls in the latter stages, but Inter grabbed an unmerited leveller through Mauro Icardi with their first shot on target.
The game yielded plenty of food for thought – especially considering the identity of Barca’s goalscorer.
Malcom takes his chance
With Lionel Messi still out of action in the latter stages of his recovery from a fractured arm, the captain’s absence on the right wing gave Ousmane Dembele another chance to prove his worth.
The former Borussia Dortmund youngster didn’t really take his opportunity, though, producing another intensely frustrating performance that combined occasional flashes of excellence with more poor decisions and wasteful deliveries.
In the end, head coach Ernesto Valverde decided to freshen things up by introducing summer signing Malcom, who has been in danger of becoming frozen out after not starting a game all season.
Remarkably, Malcom immediately thrust himself to the forefront of Valverde’s consciousness by netting a well-taken opener. And although he didn’t spend enough time on the pitch to show whether that was a freak occurrence or a representative indication of his abilities, his goalscoring contribution is sure to open the debate over whether he should now leap ahead of Dembele in the Barca pecking order.
Messi will probably be back in action for Sunday’s league meeting with Real Betis, so the starting XI will look after itself. But the first bench option is very much up for grabs, and Malcom has finally become a part of that equation.
Barca flex their muscle
The season started with Messi publicly asserting in an unusually forthright manner that Barca were furiously focused on regaining the Champions League title for the first time since 2015, and everything they have done so far in the competition shows the captain’s words should not be taken lightly.
Almost without exception, Barca have reserved their best performances of the season for the Champions League, making light work of an apparently tough group to leave themselves on the brink of qualification with two games spare.
And after conceding a chance to Inter in the opening 30 seconds, they immediately settled into a highly impressive performance. From front to back, Barca looked compact, organised and well coordinated, comfortably smothering Inter’s attempted attacks and always posing problems in possession – and this, remember, was without Messi.
They should have been well ahead before half-time, with Luis Suarez going close on no less than four occasions as Inter’s defence was stretched to the maximum. When Malcom finally pounced to give his team the lead it looked like a well-deserved victory and, although Inter somehow snatched a point, a total of 26 efforts on goal told its own story for the dominant visitors.
Lenglet poses a problem
Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has been forced to cope without the services of World Cup-winning central defender Samuel Umtiti for the last few weeks, and at first that appeared to present a problem because the powerful Frenchman was undoubtedly one of the key factors behind Barca’s title triumph last season.
However, the ease with which Clement Lenglet has settled into the team has more than compensated for Umtiti’s absence, and given Valverde a selection dilemma when Umtiti returns to action in the next few weeks.
Lenglet, a summer signing from Sevilla, has looked calm and composed throughout his nine-game stint in the team, playing with a mature assurance which belies his lack of experience at the highest level.
On this occasion the 23 year-old former Nancy player was up against one of the game’s most highly rated forwards in the form of Mauro Icardi, but the Argentina international was kept extremely quiet by Lenglet’s intelligent positioning and sharp anticipation.
And although he will probably lose his place in the starting side when Umtiti returns to fitness, on current form he is not making that decision easy for Valverde.
No mistake: Former Barcelona youth star Mauro Icardi (r) converted Inter Milan’s only attempt on target against Barcelona on Tuesday night.
Remember me: Malcom (r).