COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
If Luciano Spalletti wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of playing two huge clashes in the space of three days right after the international break, against AC Milan and Barcelona respectively, he definitely will have found a reason to smile after events at the weekend played out – albeit in unfortunate circumstances for the side they’re set to play on Wednesday.
A serious injury to Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s eventual 4-2 victory against Sevilla has somewhat put Ernesto Valverde’s side in dire straits for the visit of the Nerazzurri, as they are, frankly, a different animal without their talisman in the side.
When you take into account their poor performances (and results) over the past month or so, you begin to fear for Los Cules’ chances without the enthralling presence of their magnificent captain.
Inter Milan, via social media, sent out a statement of regret of not having the honour of playing against the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in what was a classy touch by the Italian giants.
However, deep down, the news of his injury has definitely changed the entire complexion of the game at Camp Nou, with Kwadwo Asamoah and his teammates definitely fancying themselves to shock an unsure side.
| #Spalletti: "Messi is a different footballer. He is one of those players who, when you think you've seen it all in football, comes in and makes you see things differently. He causes you problems." #UCL #BarcelonaInter #BarçaInter #FCIM pic.twitter.com/DGj1vgQrIj — Inter (@Inter_en) October 23, 2018
Furthermore, the last-gasp 1-0 win in the Milan derby serves as the perfect tonic for an Inter side that will still have fond memories of their last visit to the home of the five-time UCL winners, having seen off Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side on their way to a treble in 2010.
Admittedly, both sides aren’t quite at the level they were eight years ago, neither are the stakes as high this time around, but the fact Inter have never (in 90 minutes) picked up a win against FCB in Spain will drive them to change the narrative on Wednesday. With the pair also neck-and-neck in the group with six points apiece, a victory will put Spalletti’s side in charge of the proceedings in Group B.
For Asamoah’s part, he’s done brilliantly to buy seamlessly into what Spalletti is trying to do and has rarely put a foot wrong this season. There’s been a significant rise in the quality of his performances since cementing his place as the primary starting left-back, and he can only get better.
The summer signing from Juventus has been one of Spalletti’s best players this term, but will face arguably his toughest test this season in the rapid Ousmane Dembele. Owing to the fact that Asabob’s best displays for the Cherished One have also come in Europe, this battle is definitely one worth keeping an eye on.
It remains to be seen if Valverde will stick to playing on the break like he did after Messi’s withdrawal against Sevilla. The idea was probably to utilize the threat of Dembele and Philippe Coutinho when attacking at speed, but it failed to work as well as he’d have liked and Barca were almost pegged back but for some amazing shot-stopping by Marc Andre ter Stegen.
With a defence that has failed to keep a clean sheet since August, and an attack that can look toothless without their ace in the hole, this might be Inter’s chance to pick up two statement wins in succession.
The trio of Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Dembele, on paper, looks good, but when you take into account the fact Suarez has only scored two open play goals since May, and Dembele still prone to inconsistent performances, it isn’t as straight-forward as it seems.
Asamoah has impressed in his pair of European appearances for the Black and Blues, and he'll aim to get the better of his direct opponent - likely the young Frenchman - in the meeting between the heavyweights.
Spalletti has spoken of his side needing to show character and personality against the Spanish giants, and they’ll seek to make it eight wins in a row and consequently end an atrocious winless run at Camp Nou which stands at 13 games.
With Messi absent, they won’t have a better chance!