Inter is one heck of a club. Fresh off losing two straight Serie A outings and with alarm bells at an ear-splitting level, Simone Inzaghi’s men rose to the occasion and then some under the bright Champions League lights to conquer FC Barcelona at a raucous San Siro. The sole goal came from Hakan Calhanoglu late in the first half and then a spirited defensive showing kept the visitors off the scoresheet the remainder of the ninety.
Simone Inzaghi made five changes to the lineup from Roma, the most notable of which were Andre Onana in for Handanovic, Joaquin Correa for Edin Dzeko, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Kristjan Asllani, with Calhanoglu playing as regista. Xavi’s Barca lined up in a 4-3-3 spearheaded by Lewandowski, Dembele, and Raphina, while Andreas Christensen and Eric Garcia filled in with both starting center-backs out.
Barca’s quick passing and combination play caused Inter problems out of the gate but the Nerazzurri’s deeper stance kept the visitors from doing much more than that. In fact, the first real look of danger fell to Inter in the 7th minute when a long-range blast from Calhanoglu was barely tipped over the bar by Ter Stegen on a counter. Despite that early foreshadowing, the overarching theme of the opening stages was Inter’s inability to get out of its own half, with possession falling apart due to silly errors time after time. Once again, however, Inter came closest to opening the scoring in the 22nd minute. This time Eric Garcia clearly handled a loose ball in the box and though the referee missed the call live, he went to the VAR monitor and was sure to give Inter a spot-kick if not for a marginal (but correct) offsides from Lautaro in the build-up. Joaquin Correa got his own taste of the offside rule a few minutes later when he converted a one-v-one with Ter Stegen only to see the offside flag go straight up.
Barca remained dominant in possession statistics but Inter finally got its breakthrough on the stroke of halftime via a perfectly hit strike from Calhanoglu that nestled into the bottom corner.
HAKAN ÇALHANOGLU HIT THAT— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 4, 2022
Inter strike first against Barcelona right before half-time. pic.twitter.com/SOfNt8WSqZ
That brought an end to the opening period, with Barca holding 69% possession but level with Inter on 5 shots (2 on target) each. Calhanoglu’s moment of magic was the deciding factor and clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Inter came out with a similar deep shape after the interval as in the first half, albeit with the mental boost of a lead behind them. Barca proved bereft of ideas in the final third, with only an Ousmane Dembele effort from a tight angle of the post to their name through the 60th minute. The introductions of Alejandro Balde and Ansu Fati in the 64th minute brought some life to the visitors, and they thought they had the equalizer in the 66th minute. A Dembele cross was bundled home by Pedri but VAR spotted a handball from Ansu Fati, who had his hand upraised and was grazed by the ball, and the goal was ruled out, leaving Barca as frustrated as ever.
⚽️ ¡Gooooool del Barcelona... anulado! ❌— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) October 4, 2022
El balón le rebota en la mano a Ansu Fati y el gol de los blaugranas es anulado ❌
EN VIVO: https://t.co/klGJZJbnpJ
VIX+#TuChampions I #UCL I #ChampionsLeague pic.twitter.com/z0T843Lqw1
The Blaugranes almost shattered Inter’s hopes late on when Busquets sent a header just wide on a freekick but the real talking point came in the first minute of eight (!) in stoppage time. Denzel Dumfries seemed guilty of a handball in the box eerily similar to that of Ansu Fati’s 25 minutes earlier but VAR ruled there wasn’t definite contact, or at least not enough to warrant a spot-kick. It sure looked like Inter got left off the hook but by the time all was said and done, the good guys were deserved victors. Despite tallying a grand total of zero shots in the second half from 26% possession, Barca’s two efforts weren’t much better and much of that was down to Inter’s stellar defensive performance.
Onana - 8: A mystery why he isn’t the starter every week. Made two saves - one of which was a particularly impressive stop on Dembele, had the 3rd most touches and 4th most accurate passes on Inter, and completed 12 accurate long balls. His third straight start in the UCL with two shutouts and a mere two goals conceded to his name, so you’d hope his time in Serie A is here as well.
Bastoni - 7: Great to see him return to form and be a key part of Inter’s shutout, with 4 clearances, 2 duels won, and 5 accurate long balls to his name.
de Vrij - 7: Felt like watching the de Vrij of old times. Kept Lewandowski completely quiet and won 4 duels, made 5 clearances, and notched 3 interceptions.
Skriniar - 7: Just as good as his partners, tallying 3 clearances, 2 blocked shots, and one interception.
Dimarco - 7: Taking over the left wingback role. Had to be at his best against a player like Dembele and didn’t disappoint, keeping the Frenchman from causing too much havoc and chipping in with 3 clearances, 4 interceptions, and the assist on Calhanoglu’s goal.
Mkhitaryan - 6.5: Wasn’t able to do what he does best - create in the final third - but showed another, grittier side to his game today that kept Barca’s midfield from finding rhythm.
Calhanoglu - 8 (Man of the Match): A bit of a surprise to see him filling in for Brozovic but it more than paid off. The goal will get all the plaudits and deservedly so, but Calhanoglu looked at home as the regista.
Barella - 6.5: Found himself pressed into action more on the defensive side of things but like the rest of the midfield, did superbly even without much of the ball.
Darmian - 6.5: A rock-solid defensive performance from the veteran with 4 duels won, 4 clearances, and 1 interception.
Lautaro - 6.5: Wasn’t able to make much of an impact in the final third with a pair of off-target shots and 17 giveaways but his off-the-ball work was vital for Inter, and he engaged in 13 duels (a team-high) and won 5 (a team-high)
Correa - 6: Channeled his inner Mr.Invisible with just 12 touches before an exit on the hour mark for Dzeko, though he did lead Inter with a 100% passing accuracy (8 from 8 in case you were wondering).
Inzaghi - 8: Got his lineup spot on and had the team mentally prepared for a match of this magnitude. Neutralized Barca and Lewandowski for all ninety minutes and deserves a round of applause after pulling off this result.
Inter moves into second in Group C on six points, three behind Bayern (who have first all but locked up) and three ahead of Barca. A win or even a draw next week at the Camp Nou would be a massive step towards the Round of 16 - the former would automatically secure it while the latter would mean Inter could end level on points with Barca but still advance. The trick, of course, will be staying focused for Saturday’s trip to Sassuolo.