A Lionel Messi-less Barcelona took a giant step towards the Champions League knockout stages with a 2-0 win against Inter on Wednesday.
Goals from Jordi Alba and Rafinha against his former club fired Barca to a massively-deserved victory, while they held on for their first clean sheet in over a month.
Rafinha was entrusted with replacing the injured Lionel Messi in Barca’s XI, the Brazilian spending the second half of last season at Inter, whom he helped end a seven-year absence from the Champions League.
His inclusion kept Ousmane Dembele on the substitutes’ bench, while Sergi Roberto came in for Nelson Semedo at right-back.
Inter, meanwhile, had won seven straight games and were spearheaded up top by the prolific Mauro Icardi, who was a Barca youth player between 2008 and 2011.
The Catalans had won three of their six Champions League matches against Inter but were eliminated by the Nerazzurri in the 2009-10 semi-finals.
Both sides had picked up maximum points from their opening two games, so whoever emerged victorious at Camp Nou would top Group B.
The hosts controlled the opening stages, despite Icardi almost lifting a low cross over Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and Clement Lenglet’s powerful header was only denied by Samir Handanovic on the line.
Nonetheless, Luis Suarez spotted the run of Rafinha into the box with a clipped ball from the right, and the midfielder finished it off first time to give his side the lead.
Inter brought on Matteo Politano for the second half, and his cross was destined for the bottom-left corner of Ter Stegen’s goal, but the goalkeeper somehow tipped it around the post.
It was then Handanovic’s turn to impress, turning away Lenglet’s close-range finish and a Suarez shot at his near post, before Philippe Coutinho pinged the crossbar with the rebound.
The Catalans did eventually secure the win with seven minutes remaining, when Arturo Vidal – who had just come on to whistles – linked up with Rakitic to thread through Alba, the left-back poking his finish across Handanovic.
Barcelona 2-0 Inter
Rafinha 32, Alba 83
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur (Vidal 78); Rafinha (Semedo 72), Suarez, Coutinho (Munir 88)
Inter: Handanovic, D'Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Asamoah; Brozovic, Vecino, Valero (Lautaro 63); Candreva (Politano 46), Icardi, Perisic (Keita 77)
Referee: Hategan (ROM)