Mal­com makes mark, but Icardi saves In­ter

Ar­gentina star earns an un­de­served point af­ter for­got­ten sign­ing struck

Sport360 - - Champions League - By Andy West @andy­west01 ✉ ed­i­to­rial@sport360.com

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).

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