Valverde praises Barca for stepping up in Messi's absence

As the players in the Inter Milan wall jump as expected to defend a free kick, Luis Suarez rolls the ball below it. Thankfully, Marcelo Brozovic had already slid down and managed to block the Barcelona striker's shot during Wednesday's Champions Leag
As the players in the Inter Milan wall jump as expected to defend a free kick, Luis Suarez rolls the ball below it. Thankfully, Marcelo Brozovic had already slid down and managed to block the Barcelona striker's shot during Wednesday's Champions League clash at the Nou Camp which Barcelona won 2-0.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • The absence of Lionel Messi, out for three weeks with a fractured arm, dominated all the talk - pre-match, post-match and in the stands.

The question was whether Barcelona could cope without their talisman and captain, not just for the Champions League Group B tie against Inter Milan on Wednesday, but also the Clasico with Real Madrid at home on Sunday.

While the answer may not have been resounding - Ernesto Valverde's men lacked some punch before Jordi Alba's late strike - Barca put on a controlled and measured display in their 2-0 victory over Inter at the Nou Camp, which will certainly give them a boost ahead of the Real clash.

Barcelona, who are now all but assured of qualification for the last 16 after nine points from three games to lead their group, also proved they were not just a one-man team with Luis Suarez, Arthur Melo and Philippe Coutinho seizing the opportunity to shine.

So, too, was Messi's replacement, Rafinha, who justified his surprise selection ahead of the benched Ousmane Dembele to open the scoring against the Italian Serie A side.

Barcelona coach Valverde praised his side for "stepping up".

"It (Messi's injury) was in the head of us all. We have a certain style, then Messi gives us a touch of brilliance that is extraordinary. When he is not there, we have to supply it in some other way," the Spaniard said.

Messi was in attendance with his son Ciro and was serenaded by the home fans throughout the evening as Barca dominated the match.

Inter captain Mauro Icardi had claimed that with his fellow Argentinian missing, his side could go "head to head" with the Spanish LaLiga champions, but his words were mere bluster and the striker was subdued on the night.

Inter coach Luciano Spalletti expressed his relief that Messi had not been on the pitch, with his charges struggling to deal with the "many problems" posed by Barcelona's play.

In Germany, LaLiga rivals Atletico Madrid suffered their heaviest Champions League defeat of coach Diego Simeone's seven-year spell with a 4-0 thrashing at Borussia Dortmund.

The unbeaten Bundesliga leaders, in imperious form all season, gave their fans another treat with goals from Axel Witsel, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Guerreiro (two).

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2018, with the headline 'Valverde praises Barca for stepping up in Messi's absence'. Print Edition | Subscribe