Barcelona cruise past Inter Milan without Lionel Messi

Jordi Alba scores Barcelona’s second goal past Inter Milan’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. (Reuters)
Updated 25 October 2018
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Barcelona cruise past Inter Milan without Lionel Messi

  • Luis Suarez, Arthur and Philippe Coutinho were all excellent in Messi’s absence
  • Victory all-but secures Barcelona’s passage to the Champions League last 16

BARCELONA: Rafinha replaced Lionel Messi and helped Barcelona win without him as the Brazilian scored the opener in a 2-0 Champions League victory over Inter Milan on Wednesday.
With Messi out for three weeks and Real Madrid next up at the Camp Nou on Sunday, the question was whether Barca could cope without their star player and captain.
The answer may not have been resounding — they lacked some punch before Jordi Alba added a late second — but this controlled performance will certainly send them into the Clasico with a spring in their step.
Luis Suarez, Arthur and Philippe Coutinho were all excellent in Messi’s absence.
Victory all-but secures Barcelona’s passage to the Champions League last 16 too. They have nine points from three games and now sit top of Group B.
Messi was watching in the stands with his son Ciro and his fractured right arm in a sling. As soon as the ball left the center circle, the fans sang his name.
Barca had drawn with Athletic Bilbao in the only other match this season he had not started, and that could have been a defeat were it not for him setting up the equalizer.
Even the club had posted an article on its website this week entitled “no need to panic,” detailing their “not so bad” record without him.
Rafinha, who was playing on loan at Inter only five months ago, was a surprise replacement. Ousmane Dembele was the one expected to come in and the fact the Frenchman remained on the bench until the end does not speak well of his current status.
Messi was 22 when Barcelona last played Inter, a 3-2 aggregate win for the Italians in the 2010 semifinals that remains arguably the peak of Jose Mourinho’s career.
As well as Rafinha, Coutinho spent five years at Inter while Mauro Icardi started out in Barca’s academy, ironically leaving in part due to Rafinha.
Icardi was quiet but had the first chance, beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen to Ivan Perisic’s low cross but stabbed his finish over.
Clement Lenglet’s header was denied by the feet of Samir Handanovic before Rafinha combined nicely with Suarez but failed to finish.
It was a warning, because the same pair connected again for the opening goal. Rafinha started the move, the ball spilling out of a midfield tussle and into his path. He sent it right to Suarez, whose chipped cross reunited with Rafinha, who had continued his run and sidefooted home.
Coutinho went closest to another before half-time, his free-kick deflecting inches wide, but Inter had a better spell after the break.
Ter Stegen had to scoop away a Perisic cross and Matteo Politano, on as a substitute, should have capitalized on some careless defending.
Barca came again. Suarez wiggled through, Lenglet hit Handanovic from close range and Coutinho struck the crossbar after a sensational counter-attack, begun by a brilliant Arthur flick.
Arthur departed to a standing ovation soon after and with eight minutes left, Alba finally made sure of the win.
He pushed Ivan Rakitic’s ball past Milan Skriniar and drove into the far corner. There was there still time for one more Messi chant before the final whistle blew.


Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

Updated 18 April 2019
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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

  • Medvedev eliminates 6th seed Tsitsipas in three sets

MONTE CARLO: Top seed Novak Djokovic and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in dominating wins to power into the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Thursday.

Djokovic extended his winning streak against US players with a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Taylor Fritz.

The two-time tournament champion has now won nine in a row over Americans since losing at Wimbledon in 2016 to Sam Querrey.

“It was very challenging to play in these (windy) conditions,” Djokovic said. “Taylor just flattens the ball.

“We had five, six close games in the first set, I just managed to break his resistance midway through.

“After that, things went on my side and I felt more comfortable.

“This was one of these days where you just have to hang in there and try to put an extra ball back in the court — that was enough.”

Nadal repeated last year’s semifinal win over Grigor Dimitrov, beating the Bulgarian for the 12th time, 6-4, 6-1.

“I’m very, very happy, this is an important victory for me,” the second seed said after winning his 23rd consecutive set at the tournament.

“Grigor is a super talent and is very dangerous. It was a positive match for me.

“I had a good day, I can be happy with what I did on court.

“When you don’t play on clay for almost a year, every win is important for the confidence, especially as I’m coming back from injury.”

Spain’s 17-time Grand Slam champion started his clay season this week after missing a month with another knee problem and has title-holder points to defend here plus Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.

The king of clay is bidding for a 12th trophy in the principality. His record at the event is a staggering 70-4.

Nadal spent almost an hour in securing the first set but picked up the pace in the second as he ran out the winner.

He next faces Guido Pella, who defeated Italy’s Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic will be playing his ninth quarterfinal here from 13 appearances at his home event.

Djokovic turned in a steady performance with a dozen winners and unforced errors, while his opponent committed nearly 30 unforced errors in 68 minutes.

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 as Daniil Medvedev continued his run of form.

The Russian will next line up against Djokovic after losing to him in January in the Australian Open fourth round.

Tsitsipas was caught on the back foot facing three match points as he trailed 0-40 on his serve late in the second set. After saving the first two, the Greek botched the third to seal his exit after an hour and three-quarters.

Medvedev increased his leading total of ATP season match wins to 20 as a result after he beat Tsitsipas for the fourth time in as many attempts.

“This was a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said. “Everything was perfect today.

“Some wind came up in the second set and I could not get used to it. But in the third, I just worked to put every ball in the court.

“I was pleased to fight back after going a break down in the third set.”

The player who stands a career-high 14th credits his rising form to a renewed dedication to the sport.

“I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months —  since before the start of 2018. I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, which I did not do before,” Medvedev said.

“I had my best season last year — hopefully this year will be better.”

The Russian reached his first quarterfinal at the Masters 1000 level after winning his second match against a Top 10 opponent.

Tsitsipas, runner-up last season to Nadal in Toronto, suffered his eighth defeat of the season against 18 wins and will try and lift his game next week on the clay of Barcelona. 

Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2, 7-5.