Tottenham Hotspur host Barcelona on Wednesday in the second round of fixtures of this season’s Champions League group stage, and to a very large extent, their chances of getting a result depends on how much they can limit the impacts of Lionel Messi.
After losing to Inter Milan last time out in the opening group game, Spurs need to pick up at least a point against the Spanish giants in order to boost their chances of advancing to the last-16.
Barcelona are more or less a one-man team in recent times given Messi’s huge contributions to their successes on the pitch, and former Arsenal centre-back Martin Keown reckons Tottenham are capable of getting a result following their recent struggles in the La Liga.
“The key to stopping Messi is to create as much traffic in the middle of the pitch, restrict his space and make life as uncomfortable as possible,” the Gunners legend wrote in his Daily Mail column.
“When facing him you have to do everything at lightning speed, have quick feet and show great determination to stop him wriggling into space.
“It is vital that the backline helps by pushing up to reduce space for Messi. In doing so, they must be careful to stop him making runs in behind, too.”
Barcelona opened their Champions League campaign in group B with a 4-0 shellacking of PSV Eindhoven a fortnight ago, with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner bagging a hat-trick against the Netherlands side.
Messi has been directly involved in half of the Catalan’s league goals, weighing in with five goals and four assists in seven appearances thus far, and everything in attack goes mainly through the mercurial Argentine.
Stopping the 31-year-old means stopping Barcelona, and manager Mauricio Pochettino has to come up with tactics to that effect.
With Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele all ruled out of the encounter, Tottenham are already at a huge disadvantage and will have to be at their best to have a chance at Wembley on Wednesday night.
However, should they follow Keown’s advice and win the midfield battle against Barcelona, and ultimately Messi, then a very much needed win could be on the cards.