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Man on a mission: Lionel Messi's genius reaches new levels at Wembley against Tottenham

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It appeared to be the perfect time to be playing an out-of-form Barcelona, on the back of a rollicking from their star man, but at Wembley, Lionel Messi got the help he demanded from his team-mates to take his genius to new levels as Tottenham were put to the sword.

“This is Barca. We have enough players, we don't need to depend on one,” Messi protested after Barcelona were held by Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, having been forced to come off the bench to help rescue a point for his side.

“Messidependencia” was again the cry from one Madrid-based newspaper after the draw which meant Barcelona had failed to win for three successive matches for the first time since December 2016 - all really was not well in Catalonia ahead of Barca’s trip to London.

At Wembley, though, while Messi had all the answers - putting in as sensational an individual performance as you are ever likely to see - his team-mates took heed of his rallying call, and this time provided Messi’s genius with a helping hand to leave Spurs floundering.

Despite Tottenham’s injury problems, many gave Spurs every chance of getting something against this latest, beleaguered Barca incumbent, with fans making their way up the famous Wembley Way approach hoping for a repeat of Spurs’ heroics against Real Madrid last season.

The pitch looked a little worn, and anything but a surface that would suit Barca’s famous ball-playing style, but Spurs encountered a Barcelona side on a mission, spearheaded by their effervescent skipper who seems to be on a personal crusade to take his beloved club back to the top of the European game.

Last season will have hurt Barcelona, despite their domestic success. Bitter rivals Real made it four Champions League crowns out of the last five, leaving Barca having garnered ‘Ol Big Ears’ just once since the 2011 title success, where they outplayed Manchester United in the final at Wembley.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Group B

On the continent, Messi and Barcelona were unusually below par last season. Barcelona managed only two away goals in their five European games on the road before being dumped out by Roma at the quarter-final stage.

Messi, by his own super-human standards, was also well off the pace. He netted seven times in last season’s competition - less than half that of Cristiano Ronaldo - and made just two assists in the whole campaign, one less than Alberto Moreno.

The warning signs - that this wounded animal is keen to make amends - were there for Spurs in Barcelona’s Champions League opener against Ajax, with Messi helping himself to a hat-trick of supreme quality, with each goal sensational in its own unique way.

Nothing, though, could have prepared Spurs for what was coming at Wembley. 4-3-3 - which the hierarchy at Barcelona favour, as it means a then record-signing Ousmane Dembele is a key part of the system - has not been working of late.

FBL-EUR-C1-TOTTENHAM-BARCELONA

Coach Ernesto Valverde, therefore, had to find a way of reverting to the successful 4-4-2 formation from last season, while ensuring Barca play attractive football that keeps their expectant global fanbase happy.

Of course, that revolved around Messi. The 31-year-old was deployed in a deeper role early on at Wembley, with Philippe Coutinho further forward, and, inevitably, Messi made it work.

His pass which lead to Barca’s opener was sublime in the extreme, before he then threaded an inch-perfect pass into Coutinho for the Brazilian to tee up Ivan Rakitic for his thunderbolt of a second.

Not to be outdone, Messi then hit the post twice, before scoring two himself. There are no words left to describe his efforts.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Group B

“We gave spaces to Messi and he scored two goals,” Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said post match. “He’s got that capacity to score and that hunger is a miracle and that's why he's the best in the world.”

Yet, while Messi’s majesty won the day, his support network turned up in north London. Before Wednesday’s encounter, the last non-Messi Barcelona player to score an away goal in Europe was Gerard Pique, in 2016, but Rakitic stepped up with a goal of real class, while Coutinho was clinical under pressure early on.

Jordi Alba connected with Messi just like the old days, and Luis Suarez’s two dummies for both Messi goals simply cannot be taught. Nonetheless, without Messi, a 4-2 win away from home in Europe would not have been possible.

He may have been overlooked for recent individual accolades, but there really is no doubting who is the best player on the planet right now, and if Messi continues to get a little help from his friends, Real’s Champions League crown could be in real danger of returning to Catalonia come June 1.

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Topics:
UEFA Champions League
Football
Barcelona
Lionel Messi
Tottenham Hotspur

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