Back at the scene of his 2011 Champions League final triumph, Lionel Messi delivered another display of artistry at Wembley Stadium.
Messi’s two goals helped Barcelona fight off Tottenham’s second-half resurgence and secured a 4-2 win for the visitors on Wednesday.
But the victory — after a three-game winless domestic run — was built on much more than Messi’s virtuoso performance.
Selflessness isn’t a trait often attached to Luis Suarez, but it was the former Liverpool striker’s clever dummies that set up both goals from Messi as he allowed the ball to drift past him into the path of the Argentine forward.
The five-time world player of the year could even afford to hit the post twice before scoring in the second half as the five-time European champions made it two wins out of two in Group B.
“Everything he does is so unpredictable,” Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho said. “I’m thrilled for him that he scored twice.”
Initially, Messi settled for a supporting role as his defense-splitting pass from the halfway line to Jordi Alba helped create the opening goal. After goalkeeper Hugo Lloris rashly rushed off his line to confront Alba the ball was squared for Philippe Coutinho to score within two minutes of kickoff.
While the opener owed much to Lloris’ poor judgment on his return from an injury sustained during a drunken-driving incident, the second goal was pure artistry. Messi also started the move that saw Suarez and Coutinho combine to set up Ivan Rakitic to volley superbly into the top of the net.
When the post twice denied Messi at the start of the second half it looked like he wouldn’t come close to repeating his hat trick in the 4-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven in the group opener.
But Messi, who scored in the 2011 final win over Manchester United, was afforded more space in the second half.
After Tottenham striker Harry Kane pulled one back in the 52nd minute, Messi started and completed the move four minutes later that restored Barcelona’s two-goal lead.
By the time Jordi Alba virtually cut the ball back from the byline, Messi had darted into the box and both Coutinho and Suarez left it for the five-time world player of the year to finish.
The prospect of a Tottenham comeback flickered again when Erik Lamela netted with a deflected strike in the 66th
“We had a few problems,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “But we solved them.”
Or Messi did. As Suarez let the ball go past him, the unmarked Messi tapped into an open net in the 90th to put the score beyond the reach of a Tottenham side which has never lifted the European Cup.
“What we had to do was take risks,” Pochettino said. “When you play against Barcelona you can have different players and different tactics but the result will be the same.”
Tottenham’s task was made even harder with three core players out injured: Defender Jan Vertonghen, midfielder Dele Alli and playmaker Christian Eriksen, who all featured 11 months ago in a victory over European champion Real Madrid at Wembley.
After losing its group opener to Inter Milan, Tottenham is now on zero points along with PSV Eindhoven, which lost 2-1 to the Italian side on Wednesday.
The quality of the field in north London didn’t match the spectacle in a stadium where this game wasn’t even due to be played. With the rebuilding of White Hart Lane overrunning, Wembley is still Tottenham’s temporary home.
It’s not just the additional burden from unexpected Tottenham games accounting for the brown, dead grass across the center. It is less than two weeks since a boxing ring was constructed for the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin world heavyweight title fight.
“It wasn’t this plan to play this game on Wembley,” Pochettino said. “What can we do? Nothing. The grass needs to grow.”unb