Barça 'back to their best' in Inter win

Spanish newspapers hail European champions after 2-0 triumph over Italian side
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The Independent Football

Barcelona's victory over Internazionale in the Champions League firmly dismissed any idea they were struggling to replicate last season's excellence, according to the Spanish media yesterday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi, who are both recovering from thigh injuries, watched from the bench but were not missed as the European champions swept past Jose Mourinho's side 2-0 on Tuesday with early goals from Gerard Pique and Pedro.

"Europe trembles, the champions have returned," said the daily newspaper Sport. Meanwhile, El Pais wrote: "Music maestro, Barça are back."

Two draws and a defeat from their four group games before Tuesday had left Barcelona in real danger of going out of the competition.

Coupled with a draw against Athletic Bilbao in the league at the weekend, which saw Real Madrid replace them at the top of La Liga, and the Catalan club looked to have lost the spark that took them to a memorable treble last season.

"The Blaugrana were back to their best. Alert in defence, sharp in attack, and with the creativity in midfield," El Pais added. "The violinists returned and music sounded again in the stadium. It was a team triumph in an excellent game, well planned, played even better, and excellently resolved."

Andres Iniesta and Pedro joined Thierry Henry up front, in the absence of Ibrahimovic and Messi, and were two of Barça's outstanding players on the night.

"The debate over whether we have a big enough squad or not will never end. It will return again when we lose," coach Pep Guardiola said.

Internazionale manager Mourinho applauded the hosts: "Barça's football is spectacular. They played with greater intensity than we did, passed the ball better and quicker, and were perfect in their pressuring up front. They are a special side."

Sport daily AS was critical of the visitors' performance. "Inter passed through the Nou Camp like a sack of training balls, without leaving any kind of mark," the paper said. However, Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes preferred to praise a fine display, rather than focus on Inter's negativity. He said: "For the week that we have, the win was very important. We have gained a lot of confidence and morale. We played pretty spectacular football."

Barcelona top Group F with eight points, two above Inter and Rubin Kazan, who meet at the San Siro in the last round of matches next month. Barça visit Dynamo Kiev.

Barcelona now turn their focus to the visit of Real Madrid for Sunday's clasico at the Nou Camp. "This result puts us back in a positive dynamic and helps boost our morale for the visit of Real," midfielder Xavi said. "We felt very superior to Inter. We dominated and we always believed in ourselves. In general terms, it's been a great match [for us]. The team have overcome their absences and have shown that we have an extraordinary squad."

Regarding Messi's chances of starting El Clasico, Guardiola said: "I'm optimistic – if there's any chance, he'll be there."

Full-back Eric Abidal, meanwhile, claimed the win over Inter was the team's best performance of the season. He said: "We've played very well and we've won. We have high-quality players and great replacements who can help a lot. We've done our best work of the season."

Abidal has signed a one-year contract extension to keep him at the Nou Camp until the summer of 2012.

The 30-year-old, who was a surprise inclusion in the team on Tuesday night after going down with swine flu last week, was already committed to the Spanish champions until 2011 but has now prolonged that deal on improved terms. A club statement read: "Eric Abidal will remain with Barcelona until 30 June 2012, at least. [He has] extended and improved his current deal which lasted until 2011. His buyout clause has been kept at €90m."