Messi Inspires Barcelona in Thrilling Win Over Tottenham At Wembley
Messi was the magnificent orchestrator behind a superb attacking display from the Catalans that eventually proved too much for spirited Spurs, who also lost their opening Group B game to Inter Milan in Italy.
Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris, back from injury, gifted Philippe Coutinho Barcelona’s opener inside two minutes with a reckless dash from goal before Ivan Rakitic put them further in control before half-time with a spectacular 20-yard strike.
Erik Lamela’s deflected effort set up a grandstand finish but it was fitting that the peerless Messi had the final word with a simple strike after Luis Suarez’s brilliant dummy.
The defeat leaves Mauricio Pochettino’s side third in the group, six points behind leaders Barcelona and second-placed Inter Milan and facing a difficult task to progress to the knockout stages.
The debate about the greatest player of all time is always guaranteed to spark passionate discussion, but on nights like this it is simply a pleasure to witness the work of a genius without having to make a decisive judgement.
Messi may be 31 now but his brilliance is enduring and undimmed, summed up by one blistering spell in the opening phase of the second half as Barcelona attempted to press home their 2-0 interval advantage.
The Argentine twice glided over a wretched Wembley surface, demonstrating that uncanny ability to move quicker with the ball at his feet than without it, but with the Spurs defence in panic-stricken retreat he struck the base of the post with sidefoot finishes on both occasions.
Spurs had no escape, however. Twice they thought they had fought their way back, twice Messi snuffed out their hopes.
He was the beneficiary of delicious dummies from Coutinho and Suarez to restore their two-goal advantage after Kane had pulled a goal back for Spurs, and was on the end of another brilliant feint from the Uruguayan to wrap things up after Lamela had again given the home side hope.
Messi is quite simply a phenomenon. He has a tremendous work ethic, an ability to influence from all areas of the pitch and makes the decisive contributions when they matter. He thinks more quickly and more imaginatively than any other player in the world.
And, as one final flourish in the closing seconds, he produced a blind backheel to Suarez that most footballers on the planet would not even think about, let alone pull off.
This was a display in the same bracket.
Spurs show heart but lack quality
The first 45 minutes threatened to turn very ugly as Coutinho and Rakitic put Barcelona in control but Pochettino’s side deserve full marks for guts and determination despite the obvious gulf in class.
Many sides would have gone under in the face of the Barcelona barrage but Spurs stuck to their task to such an extent that they still carried hopes of an equaliser in the final stages of a thrilling game.
In the final reckoning Barcelona were simply too good – but Spurs were also architects of their own downfall, producing crass errors such as Lloris’s mad dash from goal that gifted Coutinho the opener inside two minutes.
Spurs missed the guile of Dele Alli and the defensive strength of Jan Vertonghen, and it is on nights like this, against opponents such as this, that their squad looks stretched to its limit.
Spurs face uphill struggle
A Champions League campaign that started full of hope for Spurs is suddenly a struggle after two opening defeats in what was unquestionably a tough draw.
The loss to Inter Milan in Italy was cruel and undeserved and better sides than Spurs would have suffered at Messi’s feet in this mood.
Pochettino’s side burnished their reputation in this tournament last season when they outclassed eventual champions Real Madrid at Wembley last November – now they must not return empty handed from the Netherlands when they face PSV Eindhoven on 24 October.
‘Disappointed but proud’ – Spurs reaction
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, speaking to BT Sport: “It was a tough game. When you concede in less than two minutes, it changes completely everything, the emotion becomes tough when you are playing against Barcelona and players like Messi and Suarez.
“That is why I want to congratulate the team, because we were always in the game, always fighting, never giving up – I feel so proud. I’m disappointed with the result but the effort was massive.
“But to give that advantage to a team like Barcelona is so difficult to come back from.
“The most important thing was our character.”
Messi’s record v English clubs – the best stats
Barcelona have won nine of their past 11 Champions League matches against English clubs (D1 L1), with this their first win in England since February 2016, when they beat Arsenal 2-0.
Messi has scored more goals (22) and provided more assists (six) against English clubs in the Champions League than against sides from any other nation.
Coutinho was involved in as many goals in his opening 28 minutes against Spurs for Barcelona (one goal, one assist) as he was in his 715 minutes for Liverpool against them (two goals).
Coutinho’s goal after 92 seconds was Barcelona’s earliest Champions League goal since Mark van Bommel in November 2005 v Panathinaikos (36 seconds).
Barcelona’s Gerard Pique made his 100th Champions League appearance in this match, becoming the 10th Spaniard to reach this landmark.
Tottenham midfielder Erik Lamela’s strike was the 8,000th scored in Champions League history.