Philippe Coutinho (left) celebrates his early goal with Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)
Rumors of Barcelona’s demise appear to be greatly exaggerated.
After a so-so start to the season in Spain’s La Liga, Lionel Messi and Co. put their doubters on notice on Wednesday in perhaps their toughest match of 2018-19 yet, traveling to London and easily dispatching Tottenham Hotspur, 4-2, in their Champions League group stage match at Wembley Stadium.
Barcelona came into the contest winless in three straight games in their domestic league, this after losing just once in La Liga last season. But they continued their blistering form in Europe’s top club competition — Barca beat PSV Eindhoven 4-0 last month behind a Messi hat trick — against Spurs.
Phillipe Coutinho opened the scoring just 92 seconds into the tilt. The choreography buildup to the goal was a sight to behold: Messi split Spurs backline with a perfect through-pass to Jordi Alba, who found Coutinho at the top of the box. The Brazilian beat a defender and sent a curling shot past Suprs keeper Hugo Lloris:
Tottenham actually seemed to settle down after the goal. But following another Messi-led break, Ivan Rakitic doubled the visitors advantage in the 28th minute off an audacious volley:
Barcelona took their 2-0 lead into halftime, and were unlucky not to put the game away early in the second half. But Messi — who was at the center of nearly all of the Spaniards’ best moves, spraying passes around the field at will — twice beat Spurs’ World Cup-winning keeper Lloris, but both shots clanged off the left post.
The hosts pulled one back immediately after Messi’s second miss through Harry Kane, only for the Barca captain to restore the two goal advantage moments later:
Erik Lamela got Tottenham back within a goal in the 66th minute. But that was as close as Mauricio Pochettino’s team came. In truth, the final score line flattered Spurs.
Tottenham might fancy themselves as a Premier League dark horse. They might even think they have a better chance at ending their silverware drought in the Champions League after watching similarly title-challenged Liverpool advance all the way to the final last year. But it’s hard to see Spurs competing for either trophy based on the way they were thoroughly outclassed, at home, against the Spanish champs on Wednesday.
Barcelona dominated this one from start to finish. They had 63-percent of possession. They completed several hundred more passes. They had more shots, and more shots on goal. Had they been a bit sharper, it would’ve been uglier. It should’ve been. When an unmarked Messi slotted home his squad’s fourth in the 90th minute, he seemed almost embarrassed. The home side had no answers.
To be fair, this match said more about Barcelona than it did about Tottenham. It was a signal of intent from a team that has watched Real Madrid, its chief rival, win three consecutive Champions League crowns since their most recent European triumph, in 2015. And although they let an inferior Spurs side hang around a whole lot longer than they had any right to, the message from Barca on this day couldn’t have been clearer:
Underestimate us at your peril.
Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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