Tottenham make too many mistakes but still deserve their place in the Champions League last 16
Barcelona put their feet up on the desk and lit a chunky cigar, and still started two players worth more than Tottenham Hotspur’s entire starting XI.
There was no Lionel Messi (benched), no Sergio Busquets (benched), no Luis Suarez (rested). Second choice keeper? Stick him in for this one. Yet still there was room for a second string including Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, who combined cost almost a quarter of a billion pounds.
It was just as well for Spurs, really, giving them that little extra chance they needed to score late and come away with a draw which sent them through to the Champions League last 16, when not so long ago they appeared certain to go out.
They had to better or match Inter Milan’s result against PSV Eindhoven and for most of the game it mattered not that Dembele had given Barcelona an early lead, until Inter equalised in Italy. Spurs could find no way past Jasper Cillessen, who had previously been limited to Copa del Rey and Holland games this season, for 85 minutes until substitute Lucas Moura side-footed in Harry Kane’s ball across.
The goal sent Spurs through and perhaps lessened the embarrassment felt by young defender Kyle Walker-Peters, making his first Champions League start, and a first start in one of those high-intensity, everything-matter matches. It took seven minutes for Barcelona to expose that inexperience and for Dembele to force the sort of error that can crush a young player’s confidence.
Moussa Sissoko headed the ball back to the 21-year-old as the ball came out from a Spurs attacking free kick, with most of their players in Barca’s penalty area leaving Walker-Peters the last line of defence a good 10 yards into his opponent’s half. His first mistake was to let the ball run, to not anticipate how impossibly fast Dembele is at accelerating.
Read more: Tottenham’s mission impossible at the Camp Nou shows how far Mauricio Pochettino has taken his team
Dembele stole the ball on half-way and began driving forwards, thundering at Walker-Peters as though it was the 100m final at an Olympic Games, boring through the middle and making Walker-Peters stumble as he beat him again, then feinting as Harry Winks desperately dived across to cover before finishing under Hugo Lloris.
There are widespread reports that Dembele has a gaming disorder, having missed or been late for training sessions after staying up all night playing video games. Barca coaches have been concerned with signs of carelessness and poor time-keeping. Let’s hope the lad starts knuckling down and taking football seriously.
Too many mistakes from Spurs
Walker-Peters’s mistake meant Tottenham have committed four errors which have led to a goal in this season’s Champions League so far – more than any other side and a statistic which is simply too costly in only six group stage games and one that cannot be allowed to continue. It could’ve sent them out on Tuesday night.
It sounded as though Barcelona had added a second, a few minutes into the second half. Only, it turned out to be Messi rising from the dugout, gently jogging along the touchline and doing a few stretches. Barca fans celebrated as though it was a goal. Which it practically is, usually.
It was Busquets, however, and not Messi, who made the first appearance from the bench, replacing Ivan Rakitic at the break. Not that the switch was wildly better for Spurs than had Messi appeared – only the master of controlling midfield on at a goal behind and to make his 100th appearance in the Champions League (he’s won it three times).
They started calling Messi’s name from the stands softly, at first. And then he was on – with 63 minutes on the clock – and the noise that erupted was remarkable. There are few players in a meaningless game for their club, having already topped the group, recently out with a broken arm, with the chance to rest, who supporters are so desperate to see in the flesh.
But there is a strangely unexpected statistic involving Messi in the Champions League. Barcelona are better without him – they have 62 per cent win percentage with him in the side and a 64 per cent win percentage without him – and it sort of proved true last night. With Messi on, Tottenham looked more likely to score.
So much for that second choice keeper; Cillessen showed why he is still one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. Saving with a leg when Heung-Min Son was through on goal in the first half, an astonishing dive to keep out Moura well into the second, perfect positioning to block Christian Eriksen at the back post at one point (although it would’ve been ruled out for a Harry Kane foul anyway).
Then, with five minutes remaining, Erik Lamela released Kane down the left, he cut the ball back low and hard and Moura diverted it well beyond Cillessen. Stick that in your cigar and smoke it, Barca.
More on the Champions League
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