At the halfway stage of the UEFA Champions League, FC Barcelona are one of just three teams that have managed to take the maximum points out of their first three encounters for the fifth time in a decade.
A workmanlike performance on Wednesday night was enough to see off an Inter Milan side that failed to rise to the occasion, with goals in each half, one from Rafinha and one from Jordi Alba, ensuring that the first of a series of games without the injured Leo Messi worked out just fine.
The game wasn’t quite as action-packed as we might have anticipated. Samir Handanovic’s gloves weren’t even truly tested until he had a powering Clement Lenglet header to deal with on 22 minutes.
With Inter keeping it tight at the back and looking for Mauro Icardi on the break, it wasn’t easy for the home side to find a way through. But Rafinha, the man tasked with the ominous job of filling in for Messi in the frontline, was getting into plenty of positions and it was he who delivered the goal when it finally came.
It was Luis Suárez that we mainly had to thank. His delightful through ball found the Brazilian in the sweetest of spots, and the latter poked it home.
Inter needed to step it up a gear, and that’s what they tried to do after the break. But to little avail. Almost all the relevant football was still being played inside their own half.
Arthur and Sergio Busquets were commanding in midfield, Suárez was everywhere, Philippe Coutinho rattled one onto the crossbar, Ivan Rakitic tried his trademark punts from long range…
It was a delight to watch, and the more ambitious of the two sides deserved further reward. It finally came when a fine assist from Rakitic found Jordi Alba. The latter slotted home with a left-footed finished worthy of the applauding Messi in the stands.
And that was the job done. One win from any of the three remaining matches, and that’s Barça safely through to the last sixteen.