Barcelona’s a very good team with a host of outstanding players, but if you ask anyone to name a Barca player, the first one they’re going to say is Lionel Messi. Arguably the best footballer of all time, even as his career begins to wind down he is still a force to be reckoned with and possesses the skill and speed to beat any defender and score.
So how does Tottenham Hotspur contain him today at Wembley? Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino says it’s “simple.”
“It’s very clear, very simple, we need to be near him when he’s about to get the ball. If we leave him space in a one-to-one, he will get away from his marker. We will need to have our lines together. Ideally we would like to anticipate the pass, because if he gets the ball he will get off his marker.
“What we need is to have one or two players helping each other. We are going to demand sacrifice and to be focused on him. They will expend a lot of energy because they have to be focused for the whole 90 minutes.”
Easier said than done, and of course Poch’s simplicity refers to the plan, not necessarily the execution of that plan. Messi put PSV, a side currently undefeated and leading the Eredivisie, to the sword in their Champions League opener, scoring a hat trick en route to a 4-0 Barca win at the Nou Camp. He has eight goals in all competitions already.
Martin Keown, writing in the Mail, said something similar to Poch, saying Spurs need to clog the center of the pitch to keep him frustrated and off his game. That role, normally the job of Mousa Dembele, will probably be given to Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks.
“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. When facing him you have to do everything at lightning speed, have quick feet and show great determination to stop him wriggling into space.”
Barcelona aren’t just Messi, obviously — Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, and Philippe Coutinho are all threats going forward. But even at age 31, Messi is still the brightest star in the Barcelona firmament. If Spurs are to get anything out of this match today at Wembley, they’ll need to work to try and stop Messi, or at least slow him down.