Spurs bewitched as Lionel Messi casts another magical spell over Wembley

Barcelona’s star man shows off his full portfolio of skills in London

 

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Barcelona 4

For Tottenham, it was a harsh lesson in the realities of the Champions League at the highest level. Incredibly, they might actually have saved themselves before Barcelona scored their fourth goal in the final exchanges.

The idea, however, that Spurs could have escaped with a draw felt almost bewildering bearing in mind the long passages when Barça bewitched Wembley and a chap by the name of Lionel Messi seemed utterly determined to leave the impression that, in 136 years of football, Spurs had never encountered a single man with his powers.

It certainly wasn’t an easy game to work out if you consider the periods of Messi-inspired dominance for Barça and the various points, at 2-0 and 3-1, when it would not have been a surprise for it to finish as a rout.

Instead, Mauricio Pochettino’s team were emboldened by the goals from Harry Kane and Érik Lamela and there was a late onslaught of the visitors’ goal before Messi settled it in the 89th minute.

Barca were both brilliant and vulnerable, but the Catalans were so superior overall that nobody could possibly argue the victory was undeserved. It was just a surprise, if anything, they restricted themselves to only four goals.

Spurs should also have a better idea now why even the most accomplished defences dread facing Messi. They found that out the hard way and, at times, Messi played as though affronted by the idea that Spurs were not already on his list of previous victims.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi takes on Tottenham Hotspur’s Ben Davies during the Champions League Group B match at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi takes on Tottenham Hotspur’s Ben Davies during the Champions League Group B match at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire

This might not be the most beautifully assembled Barça we have ever seen but, for as long as their artillery includes the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, they will have the capacity to make even the most proficient opponents question themselves.

Even by Messi’s standards, his accuracy with the ball was breathtaking. His constant ability to create his own space, a talent he maintains even when he is down to walking speed, made him the central figure and Spurs did not get anyone close enough to disturb the cycle. Did they show him too much respect? Possibly. But the simple truth is that there are times, frequently, when it seems as though Barcelona’s No 10 might just be visiting this planet.

At this level, Spurs will also have to learn they cannot expect to get very far by defending as obligingly as they did for the first goal. For that, the credit should go to the three Barça players who cut open the home defence. The pass that created the danger was just another moment of sheer brilliance from Messi’s portfolio.

Jordi Alba, Barça’s overlapping left back, followed it up with a clever cutback to Philippe Coutinho rather than going for goal himself. Then Coutinho, with at least four defenders racing back to try to save Hugo Lloris, made the finish look easier than it probably was, finding a gap to put the ball into an otherwise exposed net.

From a Spurs perspective, however, it was a poor goal to concede and the only possible mitigation for Lloris is that it was his first piece of action after missing the previous six games with a thigh injury. Lloris made a bad decision to sprint off his goal-line, trying to intercept Messi’s pass, and was stranded as soon as Alba beat him to the ball.

It was a wretched start for Spurs and, apart from a five-minute flurry, they scarcely troubled Barça in the first half. Instead, there was a clear imbalance of talent and Ivan Rakitic’s goal reiterated the gulf between the two sides. Messi was involved again, crossing for Luis Suárez to chest the ball down and leave Coutinho with another shooting opportunity. Coutinho miscued his effort but improvised brilliantly to hook the ball back before it went out for a goal-kick. Rakitic was 25 yards out and the ball was bouncing so high it needed a shot of remarkable control to keep it down. His finish was a lesson in the art of volleying a ball, a firecracker of a shot that flew through the air, skimmed off the post and speared into the net.

Arthur, another of Barça’s Brazilians, also caught the eye and it was difficult not to fear for Spurs when, a minute into the second half, Messi’s slaloming run took him 40 yards only for the shot to thud against a post. A few minutes later, Messi did precisely the same again. It was bordering on the ridiculous and, for the home crowd, it must have been startling to see the little genius at work. Startling, and in another sense, a rare privilege.

Even when Kane created the angle inside the penalty area to fire a splendid shot past Marc-André ter Stegen, it felt like a deception to think there could be only one goal in it. Perhaps it riled Messi. Three minutes later, he picked out Alba again. The ball came back his way, Suárez let it go and Messi had a goal to decorate a football masterclass.

Still Spurs were not finished. There was still more than half of the second period to play when Erik Lamela’s shot deflected in off Clément Lenglet. Spurs also had a reasonable case that Kane should have been awarded a penalty. Defensively, however, they were always susceptible to Messi and the Argentinian’s second goal meant Spurs came out of a thrilling night with their second successive defeat in this competition. - Guardian

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