Can Barcelona bounce back in crucial Champions League clash with Tottenham?

Andy West 17:40 02/10/2018
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Barcelona travel to Wembley to face Tottenham in a crucial Champions League group stage showdown which could leave the Premier League club on the brink of elimination before their campaign has properly begun.

However, the visitors have suffered a poor run of form and results domestically, and Spurs have every chance of claiming three points which would blow the group wide open.

Here are three big talking points ahead of the game.

BARCA TO BOUNCE BACK?

Lionel-Messi-Barcelona (3)

The trip to Wembley is the first in a brutal run of fixtures in October for Barcelona, who will also face Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid over the next few weeks.

With that in mind, the last thing they needed was to drop points against lesser opposition in the build-up to their testing October, but that is exactly what happened, with a three-game winless sequence in La Liga plunging Ernesto Valverde’s men into a mini crisis ahead of their Wembley date.

A home draw against Girona was followed by a shock 2-1 loss at rock bottom Leganes and Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Valverde’s former club Athletic Bilbao, leaving the reigning champions relieved to still top the standings despite dropping seven points in less than a week.

Now the pressure is really on, with Barca knowing that defeat against Tottenham could jeopardise their chances of progressing to the knockout stages through a hugely testing group.

The Catalan club have openly admitted that regaining the European crown is their chief priority this season after three consecutive quarter-final exits, so there will be no lack of motivation or focus as they attempt to put their recent bad spell behind them. But if they fail again, they need to brace themselves for a full-scale panic from fans and the media.

WILL SUAREZ END BARREN RUN?

Luis Suarez is struggling for Barca, while his poor form in the Champions League stretches back to 2015.

Luis Suarez is struggling for Barca, while his poor form in the Champions League stretches back to 2015.

One player under more pressure than most for Barca is misfiring frontman Luis Suarez, who has drawn blanks in each of his last four games and is burdened by an even worse recent record in the Champions League, with just one goal scored in his last 13 outings in the competition and none away from home since 2015.

The Uruguayan star is still assured a starting place, but Munir El Haddadi grabbed the crucial equaliser against Bilbao on Saturday to send Valverde a reminder that he is pushing for more playing time, and the youngster has at least made himself a viable option if Suarez continues to struggle.

According to widespread reports, Valverde is planning to respond to his team’s poor form by dropping Ousmane Dembele and reverting to a 4-4-2 formation, strengthening the midfield and playing Lionel Messi more centrally in a similar system to the one employed for much of last season.

Playing closer to Messi could significantly help Suarez, and the Uruguayan star desperately needs something to turn around his form and allay growing fears that, at the age of 31, he has entered into an irreversible decline.

DARE TOTTENHAM BE BOLD?

Harry Kane is back among the goals for Spurs.

Harry Kane is back among the goals for Spurs.

‘To dare is to do’, states Tottenham’s motto, and this game is the ideal opportunity for Mauricio Pochettino’s men to live up to those lofty words by delivering an attack-minded and positive performance against their out-of-form visitors.

Of course, a balanced approach will be required to ensure that Tottenham do not leave too much space for Messi and Suarez to exploit, but there’s not a great deal of pace in this current Barca team – especially if Dembele is omitted – and Pochettino therefore shouldn’t worry too much about being counter-attacked.

Instead, the worst case scenario for Tottenham would be allowing Barca to settle into their passing rhythm and play the game inside the opposition’s half.

So Spurs need to be bold, press high up the pitch, attack in numbers and pen Barca back, starving Messi and Suarez of service. It would be a bold approach, and risky, but it would give them the best chance of winning. Dare they?

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