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Messi-less Barcelona see off Inter to virtually assure knockout berth

No Lionel Messi, no problem for Barcelona.

As the injured Argentine watched from the stands with his fractured right arm in a sling, Rafinha and Jordi Alba struck either side of half-time as the hosts ran out 2-0 winners over Inter at Camp Nou.

Though the Blaugrana were not at their scintillating best without their talisman, they still produced enough to move to within two points of sealing their spot in the Champions League round of 16 with three group games still to play.

LLUIS GENE / AFP / Getty

Barcelona, perhaps surprisingly, boast a higher Champions League win percentage without Messi than they do with him in the XI, and they looked unflustered in the absence of their biggest star.

Luis Suarez, as he did after Messi’s withdrawal against Sevilla, stepped up to shoulder the burden of leading La Blaugrana from the front.

The Uruguayan created the opening goal, showing tremendous vision to float a delightful ball into the box from deep for Rafinha, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Inter, to volley home a composed finish.

Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic kept his side within one goal and in with a fighting chance as time wore on, but after Philippe Coutinho had hit the bar, Ernesto Valverde’s side made sure to continue their 100 percent record in Europe this season with seven minutes remaining.

Tremendous interplay between Ivan Rakitic – who was excellent in partnership with Arthur in central midfield – Arturo Vidal, and Alba saw the latter surge up the flank from left-back and finish neatly to double the advantage and leave Barca eight points ahead of third place with three matches to play in Group B.

It was an accomplished way to lay down the final preparations for Sunday’s El Clasico bout with Real Madrid, and proved there is joy to be had even in Messi’s absence.

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