Barcelona’s mammoth journey to the San Siro proved to little avail as Pep Guardiola’s troops succumbed to a 3-1 defeat by Jose Mourinho’s Inter. It was the first time under Guardiola’s reign that Barca have lost a game by more than one goal, but the away goal which opened the scoring could still prove to be decisive in this tie.
The goal was scored by Pedro Rodriguez after Maxwell was allowed to saunter into the Inter box unopposed, then cut back for the 22-year-old forward to slot home. It was the last time any Barca player was allowed that much space on the ball as the Nerazzurri proceeded to take a much more aggressive stance. The frailty of the Blaugrana rearguard was exposed for Inter’s equaliser, as after three Barca defenders inexplicably attempted to close down one Inter player in the box, the ball broke to Wesley Sneijder to finish.
Straight from kick off in the second half, Inter Milan went for the jugular. Their direct aggressive style paid off immediately as Maicon squeezed home after steamrolling his way through the Barca defence. The game was marred by very inconsistent officiating, and further questions were asked of the Portuguese referee when Diego Milito appeared to be in an offside position to nod in Inter’s third. In fairness to the referee the illegitimacy of this goal was ambiguous, however Barcelona have a strong case for the suggestion that the official displayed home bias. After Carles Puyol collided with Diego Milito in what was a fairly inconspicuous challenge, the referee appeared to be influenced into showing a yellow card after at first blowing for the foul then producing a yellow after being surrounded by a host of Nerazzurri players. This booking ruled the instrumental Puyol out of the second leg, yet Maicon somehow avoided the same fate after committing several fouls after being given an apparent last warning by the referee. The icing on the cake was the cautioning of Dani Alves for diving after being brought down from a Wesley Sneijder challenge from behind, with the Dutchman categorically making no contact with the ball.
Despite the unfortunate officiating, Inter deserved to shade the game. Their abrasive tactics were executed to perfection, and whilst arguably bending the rules at times, it is perhaps the only way they were going to get the better of a Barcelona side who have the ability to outplay any team if given space. The Blaugrana face arguably their toughest task to date of the Guardiola era, but over-turning the deficit is by no means impossible, and dwelling on unfortunate circumstances would be unhelpful. This notion was echoed by the players straight after the game, with the likes of Dani Alves exclaiming: “Complaining is for losers and we’re not losers.” He was joined by Pedro, Sergio Busquets and Carles Puyol in suggesting that the tie can still be won at the Camp Nou.
Jose Mourinho reacted to his team’s win in a typically brash manner. After being quiet in the build-up to the match, once the win was secured the Portuguese Coach found himself in his comfort zone as he accused Barca of displaying double standards by complaining about the referee. Mourinho was alluding to his time as Chelsea manager who Barca narrowly knocked out in the same stage of the competition last year. Of Tuesday night’s game, he stated: “I don’t feel that the referee influenced the outcome of this game, no. It’s a pity he gave an offside against [Inter’s] Diego Milito at the start when he was onside, but that’s all.” Mourinho was apparently forgetting that he has spent the majority of the season in Italy bemoaning that referees are doing all they can to prevent Inter being successful.
It would be far too easy to blame the long journey Barcelona endured before the game, or place the entire burden on the refereeing performance. Barcelona were out-powered, and Inter were clinical. The second leg will be the true test of the Blaugrana’s credentials as Champion’s League defenders, and judging by their record in games of such magnitude few will rush to bet against them winning the game. The question will be will they have the grit to win the tie. Before they contemplate that challenge, Barcelona face a home encounter against lowly Xerez on Saturday, in what is being called a “cup final” match. Any more slip-ups and the Blaugrana could end up with the alien feeling of being without two major trophies come the end of the season.