Barcelona are once again staring at another early exit from the Champions League following a disappointing 3-3 draw at home against Inter Milan.
The Catalans knew they needed to win in order to keep their European ambitions in their own hands. Leading 1-0 at the break thanks to a goal from Ousmane Dembele, it seemed like they had momentum in their favor and on their way to a win.
Just a few minutes into the second half, the tables turned.
Inter sent in a cross from a free kick and Gerard Pique stuck his arm out, indicating there was no danger, and let the ball get past him. What he didn’t know was Nicolo Barella was behind him, onside. Barella controlled the ball and shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to equalize.
From then on, it was a different game altogether.
Lautaro Martinez put Inter ahead in the 63rd following a mistake from another veteran, Sergio Busquets. A poor giveaway in his own box led to Martinez receiving the ball inside the penalty area. Eric Garcia was too passive in his mark and feeble tried to clear the ball. Martinez kept the ball and fired a shot that hit off the post and into the other before going into the back of the net.
Barcelona, and the more than 90,000 fans in attendance, were left stunned.
Xavi brought on Ansu Fati and Frenkie de Jong to try to bring in some control and danger from the left in Ansu’s case. He later also brought on Franck Kessie and Ferran Torres.
Robert Lewandowski brought a little bit of hope back to the Camp Nou when he equalized in the 82nd minute. That hope was then erased when Robin Gosens put Inter back in the lead.
Again, it was more poor defending from Barcelona. Pique’s attempt at an offside trap failed and his mark was inadequate, allowing Martinez to find Gosens. An absolute shocker of a second half from the Catalan.
Lewandowski lifted the Camp Nou once again when he equalized in the 92nd minute but it wasn’t enough as Inter managed to hang on and pick up a crucial point that all but has them into the round of 16 of the Champions League.
In a game Barcelona knew they couldn’t afford to make any mistake, they made more than their fair share.
“This Champions League is being cruel to us,” Xavi said. “But in the second half we made a lot of mistakes. The first goal is a very clear mistake by the defensive line, and we had also talked about it.”
While Xavi isn’t going to point fingers at anyone, Pique’s first mistake clearly changed the tide, not allowing Barcelona to use their lead to their advantage. His errors, along with Busquets, were easily avoidable which made the draw even more difficult to swallow.
Barcelona now need a minor miracle to find themselves in the round of 16. They would need Inter to lose, or draw, against Viktoria Plzen to still have a shot heading into the last round of the group stage.
In any case, they would need to beat Bayern Munich at home which is unlikely given how they struggled for a draw against Inter. If these two scenarios play out, however, they would depend on Bayern beating Inter.
Barring that, for the second consecutive season, Barcelona would suffer the humiliation of heading out in the group stage of the Champions League and into the Europa League. Given how much they spend in adding players, and how they went about it, this would be a catastrophic failure.
There is hope, no matter how small. But even the most ardent Barcelona supporter knows this miracle is all but impossible.