A very entertaining evening even if it ended with disappointment. It was also one where we pushed Barcelona a lot closer than looked likely when the team sheets were published or when Hugo went walkabout in the second minute.
His rush from goal to try and intercept Messi’s through ball was ill conceived, unless it was an attempt to persuade any magistrates he might be in front of soon that his red nose was due to clownish tendencies rather than an extra crème de menthe or three. Coutinho’s precise and expert finish from Alba’s subsequent cut-back was the last thing we needed given the untried, unfit and out of form nature of much of our line-up.
We recovered but were still trying to find a real rhythm when Rakitic volleyed spectacularly home following another cut-back after half an hour or so. We held on until half-time without suffering any more blows though thank goodness, as Barcelona were done with the sitting back and pouncing tactic and went for the jugular in an attempt to have it done and dusted before the turnaround.
The odd break from Trippier or Lucas, and a snap shot from Kane aside we had done little to threaten ter Stegen. We were hardly encouraged by the German referee who bought everything offered to him and wouldn’t have given a foul throw even if Steve Backley in full flight was delivering the ball back on to the (extremely scruffy looking – thanks Wembley) pitch.
The second half was excellent fare as led by Lamela and Moura we decided that attack was the best option. It was good work by these two that gave Kane the opportunity to finish superbly with a disguised side footed shot, similar to his goal against Fulham.
The comeback was on!
And then it wasn’t. Having hit Hugo’s right hand post twice in near identical circumstances, Messi was more accurate with his next attempt, firing home from yet another cut-back from behind Trippier.
Dier came on for the struggling Wanyama and provided an increased assuredness with the ball at his feet but it was Lamela who led the second fightback and it was fittingly he who brought us back within one goal, a deflected strike from the edge of the box.
Barcelona were in full game management mode now. The match stuttered along as the Catalans took it in turns to be embodied by the spirit of Lazarus. We continued to push though, all plans – if there ever were any – to deny Messi space having been completely abandoned. Lamela had run himself into the ground but Lucas was still going. He first wriggled in from the right to create an opening and scuffing his shot before, in something like the 83rd minute he cut in from the left and found, Glory Be!, himself ten yards out with just the keeper left in front of him. From nowhere a sliding challenge deflected his shot out for a corner. This ref was never going to give anything for wrestling in the box and that was it, our chances of gaining an, albeit unlikely, draw had disappeared.
Messi scored again after our defence got itself in to a tangle for the last time.
Things we have learned.
- Our rise to prominence over the last four seasons has been due to a core of key players, take four (Dele, Eriksen, Vertonghen, Dembélé) out of the team and it’s hardly surprising that we struggled against a side of Barcelona’s resources, especially one that appears to be fed up with winning their domestic league and has prioritised this one.
- On this basis, the team should not be judged harshly, in fact their fortitude in twice bringing a team containing the best player in the world back in to range should be praised.
- Barcelona’s game was characterised by speed, accuracy and technique, only Lucas and Lamela matched them for sustained periods.
- Barcelona’s support was characterised by its size. One of the worst away attendances we’ve seen at Wembley.
- The problems in central midfield become magnified with every game. Winks and Wanyama isn’t the answer, bringing on Sissoko for Son isn’t a good response to any question I know either.
- Hugo’s two rushes from the goal line, one in each half when added to his gaffe in the World Cup Final make you wonder. Yesterday apart, his form has been excellent but it’s not going to take too many more rickets before he looks vulnerable – apart from the fact that we don’t buy anyone of course.
- This result isn’t a disaster, we were never going to win the Champions League anyway. The Cardiff game is in many ways more important but with nobody returning from their sickbeds before the weekend, it’ll have to be the same group of players – hopefully including Lamela who was taken off injured – so won’t be easy.
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