Tottenham 2-4 Barcelona: Lionel Messi delivers masterclass as Spanish giants clinch victory in six-goal Champions League thriller to leave Harry Kane and Co’s chances of progression in tatters
Barcelona claimed victory in a six-goal Champions League thriller against Tottenham on Wednesday night
Philippe Coutinho put the Spanish side ahead after just two minutes after a disastrous error from Hugo Lloris
Ivan Rakitic doubled Barcelona’s lead with a sensational first-time volley from the edge of the area
Harry Kane pulled a goal back for Spurs early in the second-half with a delightful finish into the far corner
Barca quickly regained their two-goal advantage when Lionel Messi finished off a well-worked team move
Erik Lamela cut the deficit once again for the hosts though when his effort from distance deflected in
Messi grabbed his second of the night in the closing stages with a simple finish from extremely close range
The good news is, another 82,137 got to see Lionel Messi. They might not have felt that way, as they trooped away from Wembley Stadium. They might have been cursing him for what he did to their team.
Yet time is a healer. And with time they will know what a privilege it was to be here, to see the man on what may be his last visit to the capital. Who knows how much longer he has got, or where the draw will take him in his final years? Tottenham would need to reach the quarter-finals, at least, to meet Barcelona again in this campaign, and there are no other London teams in the 2018-19 Champions League. Messi will be 32 when next season starts. How long will he go on for? We need to make the most of him while we have the chance: no matter how much it hurts.
And if this is Mess’s last trip to the capital, well, what a way to go out. He was the difference, as he so often is on nights like this. Had he been in a white shirt, Tottenham would have won. Had he not been playing, it would have been a much closer game. The scoreline was a fair result, but Messi separated these teams. His passing made Barcelona’s first two goals, his wit and imagination secured the third, and the fourth merely confirmed his gifts as a finisher. Messi was allowed to get one on one with Hugo Lloris, a mismatch that could not have been any greater had the Argentinian been put in the ring with Anthony Joshua here two weeks ago.
Lionel Messi scored twice as he delivered a scintillating display to help his team to three points at Wembley
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS, MATCH ZONE AND GROUP TABLE
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6, Semedo 7, Pique 6, Lenglet 6.5, Alba 8.5, Arthur 7.5 (Vidal 86, 5.5), Busquets 7 (Vermaelen 90, 5.5), Rakitic 8, Messi 9.5, L Suarez 8, Coutinho 8.5 (Rafinha 83, 5.5).
Subs not used: Cillessen, D Suarez, Dembele, Munir.
Goals: Coutinho 2, Rakitic 28, Messi 56 & 89
Bookings: Arthur, Busquets
Manager: Ernesto Valverde 7
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Germany) 6
Player Ratings by Adam Crafton at Wembley
Yet Tottenham got back into the game, reducing Barcelona’s lead from 2-0 to 2-1 and later 3-1 to 3-2, and enjoying a spell of serious pressure late in the second-half, before Messi intervened once more. Yet while there is no shame in defeat, Tottenham’s task in this competition grows tougher. With Inter Milan winning in Eindhoven, they now trail two teams by six points each, and have to look to beat PSV home and away to catch up. Bottom line, they have very little wriggle room now – and certainly they must start better in Holland next time out.
Considering that, including injury time, Tottenham shipped two goals in the last 10 minutes of their previous Champions League match in Milan, to concede again within the first two minutes here was the stuff of nightmares. Mauricio Pochettino’s final instructions against a team of Barcelona’s attacking prowess would have been to keep it tight early on and Tottenham, instead, were looser than a charity shop polo neck. It doesn’t help, of course, that Barcelona begin games perfectly on point – ready to inflict damage from the moment the ball rolls.
Lloris came rushing out of his goal to intercept a pass but didn’t get there and was left stranded and out of position
Coutinho notched his third goal of the season for the Catalan giants in his debut European campaign for the club
Kane tries to apply some pressure to Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet but he manages to clear the ball away from danger
Ivan Rakitic started the play in midfield and fed Messi. And with that sentence, Tottenham were in trouble. His pass out to Jordi Alba was quite magnificent – no need to ease into the game here – and suddenly Barcelona were into Tottenham’s back four. What happened next was sheer lunacy. Hugo Lloris came tearing from his goal, too late to thwart the attack, but too early to allow the defenders around him to regroup and adequately protect the target.
To make matters worse, Lloris then slipped and fell, as did Davinson Sanchez, struggling to cover the hole in the middle. Alba cut the ball back to Philippe Coutinho, whose finish showed why mistakes against Barcelona invariably prove fatal. He made it look easy, the former Liverpool man, but it wasn’t. He didn’t have much of the goal to aim at, as players scrambled frantically to close his space, but he found the gap with stunning precision. First time, straight in, one-nil. There were 94 seconds on the clock – Barcelona’s quickest goal in Europe since 2005.
By half-time the lead had doubled. Again, it was brilliant work from Barcelona, sloppy from Tottenham, and a heavy price was paid. The Alba-Messi combination proved fruitful once more, the full back putting his team-mate in this time and his cross seeking out Luis Suarez in the middle. It didn’t reach, but Coutinho got a touch, and looked to have put the ball out of play.
Yet, by presuming this, Tottenham became architects of their downfall a second time. Pochettino’s players stopped, Coutinho didn’t. He scrambled after the ball and kicked it hopefully back into play. It fell, fortuitously, to Rakitic – but there was no luck in his finish, on the volley, in off the post, screaming past Lloris. All it would have needed was one Tottenham man keeping pace with Coutinho and the worst would have been a corner. Instead, Barcelona were allowed to build an unassailable lead.
There were several other chances, any of which could have put Tottenham to sleep. Instead, in the 52nd minute, they were back in the game. Heung-min Son found Harry Kane, who had until that point worked hard to little effect. He collected the ball on the edge of the area, took it wide to get the angle, left Nelson Semedo on his backside as he went, then turned and shot across Marc-Andre ter Stegen for a goal that revived momentum. Until that point, this had been a long way from Tottenham’s wonderful performance against Real Madrid in this competition 11 months ago.
The locals were furious at what they saw as Barcelona’s play-acting, but it was Tottenham who caught the biggest break from referee Felix Zwayer. Victor Wanyama’s early foul on Messi was certainly worthy of a booking, but received nothing – meaning the booking he got for fouling the same player on 41 minutes could have been a red. Down to 10, Tottenham would have stood no chance; 11 was hard enough.
Lamela cut inside onto his left foot and saw his effort take a wicked deflection after the goalkeeper had already committed
Soon after, Son fed Erik Lamela, whose shot clipped Sergio Busquets, and eluded Ter Stegen again. There was just a single score in it for the last 25 minutes and Tottenham’s pressure was increasing. Just when it was felt they might get away with an equaliser and an unlikely point, however, Messi intervened again.
Is it possible to have an assist without touching the ball? In which case, credit Suarez whose dummy was as good as any pass you will see all season. It was like watching a great magician’s sleight of hand. They should play Las Vegas. If they come to your town, catch them while you can.