Wednesday night’s game is of course all about one man. Hugo. Finally, the skipper will make his return to the team after missing four league games and two cup games. These included the familiar Vorm flaps and fumbles, a very unfamiliar Gazzaniga-led victorious penalty shootout and only one clean sheet.
It will be a real fillip to the side, especially given the certain and potential absences of so many key players.From the club yesterday, we learnt that we’ll have no Dele, no Eriksen, no Vertonghen, no Dembèlè and no Aurier. Oh poo. So, does that mean we also have no chance? We’ll no – it certainly doesn’t help though.
To win, we will need Barcelona to have a bad day and every single one of our players to have an excellent, fault-free day. To draw, some combination of the two will be required. At odds of Evens the away team are hot favourites which tells you most of what you need to know and this is despite Messi and co drawing two of their last three games and losing the other.
Messi! Ah yes. The rest of the Catalan team doesn’t look like anything we’ve not faced already in the last twelve months against any of Dortmund, Real Madrid or Juventus. Suarez, Busquets, Pique, Coutinho. Shrug. The records, reputation and ability of Messi though make this different. He (with some help from Xavi and Iniesta) has carried this Barcelona team for nigh on fifteen years and four Moneybags League titles. It appears, judging from his hat-trick against PSV, that his appetite for more goals and success remains undimmed.
Messi with the ball, dribbling at you is when he’s at his most dangerous so cutting down his supply is vital if we’re going to keep him quiet tonight. The centre of midfield has arguably been our weakest area thus far and certainly the position in the squad that could have done with beefing up during the summer. It was more than slightly frustrating to see the likes of Seri, Fabinho, Jorginho and Kovacic get snapped up whilst we did nothing.
The injuries to Dele and Eriksen in particular don’t help. Three of Wanyama, Dier, Winks, Lamela and Sissoko are set to challenge Rakitic, Busquets and Coutinho. Vertonghen’s absence means that a back three is highly unlikely – given his form this season thus far it would be a real leap of faith to throw Dier into a back three with Sanchez and Toby.
Poch’s tactics will be vital. He needs to find a formation that will squeeze the supply to Messi but also not allow Suarez or Coutinho any space in dangerous areas. He also needs to find a way to give Harry, Son and Lucas opportunities to profit from what is likely to be a thin supply of quality balls from midfield given the absence of Eriksen and Alli. We need good matches from Rose and Trippier.
Despite the dreadful last few minutes in Milan, losing is not the end of the world but if the worst were to happen, we would need some spectacularly good results in the games against PSV and Inter to have a chance of progression.
Whatever happens though it should be a marvellous occasion. A Wembley full house and on both sides, some of the best players in the world to marvel at.
The match officials are from Germany.
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