Barcelona are ready to deliver on Lionel Messi's promise of Champions League glory

Andy West 7/11/2018
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Lionel Messi and team-mates

As the first club to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, it’s currently looking undeniable that Barcelona should be regarded as favourites for the title.

The Catalan club have been in commanding form in the competition so far this season, gaining ten points from four games which really should be a maximum 12 if they had been able to convert their vast superiority over Inter Milan on Tuesday night into a victory rather than a 1-1 draw.

Most of the other big guns have suffered tough moments during this group stage: Real Madrid lost against CSKA Moscow, Manchester City were defeated at home in their opener against Lyon, Bayern Munich were held at home against Ajax, Paris Saint-Germain are in danger of not even qualifying and Atletico Madrid suffered a 4-0 mauling at Borussia Dortmund.

Other than Barca, the only other highly-fancied team who have so far lived up to their billing are Juventus, who are heading into Wednesday night’s home game against Manchester United with maximum points and no goals conceded.

Everyone else, though, looks unconvincing and vulnerable, and it’s easy to see why Barca and Juve – finalists when the Spanish team last won the title in 2015 – are rated as most likely winners.

Tuesday’s game at Inter was another indication that Barca are determined to focus with great intensity on their desire to win the competition. It was a very strong team performance all over the pitch, with Inter restricted to just a handful of half-chances before Mauro Icardi – who had done nothing until then – pounced for a late equaliser.

The only negative for Barca was their finishing, which saw them convert only one of their 27 attempts on goal. But it hardly needs to be said that welcoming back the absent Lionel Messi would make a significant improvement in that respect, both in terms of the quality of chances they are able to create and the conversion rate.

Most important, though, was the clinical composure shown by Barca throughout the game. In the Spanish language, the word ‘serious’ is used in a slightly different context to English, often referring to a state of mind. “We played a serious game” is a common tribute from managers who are particularly happy with their team’s mental approach, and from their performances so far it’s abundantly clear that Barca are very serious – in every sense of the word – about their quest to take the Champions League title this season.

It’s difficult to understate the extent to which Barca have been irritated by their failure to land the trophy – or even advance past the quarter-finals – since 2015.

While Real Madrid have managed to lurch their way to three successive title triumphs, despite rarely reaching world-class performance levels, Barca haven’t even come close.

That hurts the men from the Camp Nou, and it hurt particularly badly in the wake of last season’s shock last eight exit to Roma, when a 4-1 first leg lead was surrendered by an abysmal collapse in the Italian capital.

Roma celebrate their famous victory over Barcelona

Roma celebrate their famous victory over Barcelona

That game appears to have been a watershed moment for Barca. Enough is enough, seems to have been the conclusion within the dressing room. No more messing around – that must never happen again.

The determination of the players to restore their European supremacy was reflected in a famous pre-season speech to the fans delivered by club captain Messi, who shrugged off his usual reticence in front of a microphone to assertively declare: “We all felt bad about how last season finished in the Champions League. We promise that this season we will do all we can to bring that beautiful trophy back to the Camp Nou.”

Such a bold statement of intent is unusual from any player, never mind the understated Messi, so it provided a revealing glimpse into the psyche of this group of Barca players.

They want the Champions League, and they want it badly. From what we’ve seen so far, they are ready to deliver on Messi’s promise – and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. They are deadly serious.

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Malcom in desperate plea after scoring for Barcelona on Champions League debut

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Barcelona attacker Malcom

Barcelona attacker Malcom has pleaded for more game time after scoring in his side’s 1-1 draw with Inter Milan on Tuesday night.

The Brazilian was making just his fourth appearance for the club since his €41million summer switch from Bordeaux.

The 21-year-old has endured a difficult start to his Camp Nou career with talk he could even leave the club on loan in January.

However, he served notice of what he can offer after rising from the bench to open the scoring in the Champions League clash at the San Siro.

“[Playing for] Barcelona was a dream I had as a kid,” he said. “Making my debut in the Champions League and scoring will stay in my memory forever – I will celebrate it with my family tonight.

“My dream with Barca is just starting. My dream is to make history and to do big things. I have to thank my teammates for showing confidence in me.”

Malcom is hoping the goal will now be used as a platform for more minutes having made three of his four appearances from the bench.

“I want to play more,” he said. “Every day I train to show the quality I can add to the team. Nothing in my life has been easy.”

Barca are next in action on Sunday when they host Real Betis in La Liga.

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Sergio Busquets passionately defends Barcelona team-mate Malcom

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Barcelona's Malcom

Sergio Busquets has jumped to the defence of team-mate Malcom after the 21-year-old scored his first Barcelona goal in the 1-1 draw with Inter Milan.

Malcom has endured a nightmare start to his Blaugrana career following his summer switch from Bordeaux.

The €41million signing was making just his fourth appearance for the club after rising from the bench at the San Siro on Tuesday evening.

It was his first game since a poor outing in the 1-0 Copa del Rey outing against Cultural Leonesa, however, Busquets has praised the attacker’s attitude.

“It’s not fair that he’s judged on one game in the cup because he had hardly played all season before that,” Busquets said. “It’s impossible to have any sort of rhythm [when you aren’t playing regularly]. There was a lot of unjust [criticism] about the players that played in the cup.

“We’re all happy for Malcom. His tears were emotional. He’s not getting the minutes he wants, but in training he’s working really hard. He really wants to turn things around.

“He’s a great kid. He’s done really well and the goal will do him good. He is going to help us a lot.”

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