Kane and Messi set for first-ever duel as stars headline Tottenham vs Barcelona

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Wednesday's clash sees Kane vs Messi for the first time.

Tottenham‘s newfound status as one of England’s Champions League regulars faces its latest test on Wednesday as they entertain the mighty Barcelona at Wembley.

The clash will feature a battle of one of the world’s best strikers against one of the best to ever play the game, with several similar duels across the pitch making this a classic encounter between rising stars and an established powerhouse.

Here are the key player battles that will decide the game.

HARRY KANE VS LIONEL MESSI

Harry Kane is in poor form. He’s fatigued and doesn’t look match-fit. Harry Kane also has five goals in eight appearances this season, including three from his last two.

In fairness to the Englishman, he’s looked much sharper in Tottenham’s last two matches than in the three-match scoring drought that preceded them – five if you count two appearances for England – so he should be raring to go now.

Tottenham have tried hard to convince everyone they’re not a one-man team, but they will go only as far as Kane takes them. It’s a good thing he’s hitting top gear as they prepare to host Barcelona.

Form is rarely a concern for Lionel Messi, who has eight goals and four assists this season, including a hat-trick in his last Champions League outing against PSV Eindhoven.

Barca needed him to come off the bench on Saturday to avoid a loss against Athletic Bilbao, as he set up an equaliser, and though there are some big names throughout the squad, like with Spurs there’s a case to be made that this team is too reliant on one man.

Such problems won’t concern Messi, however, as he faces Kane and Tottenham for the first time. The stage is set for a battle royale at Wembley.

The main men: Kane and Messi.

ERIC DIER VS SERGIO BUSQUETS

Eric Dier has made an indifferent start to the season, and though he was a part of England’s World Cup squad, it’s hard to put his form down to fatigue when he played just 194 minutes in Russia. Whatever the reason, Dier has often let Tottenham surrender control of the midfield battle so far this campaign.

Going up against Barcelona, that will be a criminal offence. Even players and teams in top form can be lulled into submission by Blaugrana, so if Dier continues to be off-colour, Tottenham could end up being overrun.

If Dier needs an example of the role he needs to perform, there will be a good one lining up across him. Sergio Busquets has been the unsung hero of Barcelona’s success for too long, but he’s now the only remaining member of the famed Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets trio that underpinned the side’s dominance, and the responsibility of marshalling Barcelona’s midfield, and upholding its tradition, falls on him.

So far, he’s living up to it. He’s averaging one key pass per game this season, with a passing accuracy of 90%. On that form, he’ll be a nightmare for Tottenham to defend against.

Midfield enforcer Dier against pass-master Busquets.

KIERAN TRIPPIER VS JORDI ALBA

Serge Aurier started at right-back against Inter Milan, but Kieran Trippier has started six out of seven Premier League games and it’s clear that the young Englishman is first-choice.

It’s a mark of how far he’s come that he emerged from this summer with his reputation more enhanced than that of any Barcelona full-back. His form for Tottenham and England over the last year has been exemplary, with his passing, crossing, and disciplined pressing and defending a key to both sides’ play.

That he’s also a reliable set-piece taker is the icing on the cake. Barcelona have been forewarned.

Of course, while Trippier had an outstanding World Cup, Jordi Alba has a body of work stretching back years which has made him one of the best left-backs in the world. His attacking ability, and especially his relationship with Messi, is not just a huge bonus for Barcelona – it’s vital to how they play.

Watching Alba come up against the upstart Trippier will be fascinating – not to mention, a big test for the Tottenham man. The Spaniard is among a select crop of players who set the standard for full-back play. No doubt Alba will want to put Trippier in his place.

The full-back area will be key.

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Klopp and Liverpool have problem of plenty while Ancelotti may have an ace up his sleeve

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Klopp and Ancelotti have faced each other twice before in the Champions League.

Liverpool go into Wednesday’s Champions League tie against Napoli top of their group, having lost just once this season in the Carabao Cup, in contrast to their opponents, whose loss to on Saturday to Juventus was their second of their Serie A campaign.

The Partenopei, too, could only manage a draw against Red Star Belgrade on matchday one in Europe.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti knows his side need a win against Jurgen Klopp’s men, given that they have a double-header against Paris Saint-Germain to follow in the group. For Liverpool, Wednesday’s game is a chance to cement their hold on Group C, where they sit top of the table.

Here’s a look at the key tactical talking points that will determine the game.

LIVERPOOL’S PROBLEM OF PLENTY IN MIDFIELD

Jordan Henderson’s lengthy World Cup meant that he missed Liverpool’s first four games, but since then he’s started two straight league games as well as the Reds’ Champions League win over PSG. It seems clear that he’s jumped back ahead of summer signing Naby Keita to be first-choice in Klopp’s midfield.

Liverpool have a problem of plenty in that part of the pitch, as Keita is joined by fellow summer recruit Fabinho in missing out from the regular starting XI. Henderson and James Milner seem entrenched, but Georginio Wijnaldum’s spot may be vulnerable after a couple of below-par performances. Could either Keita or Fabinho get the nod on Wednesday?

Is Keita in line for a recall?

Is Keita in line for a recall?

RIGHT-BACK A CONCERN FOR NAPOLI AFTER HYSAJ’S RONALDO TERROR

Liverpool’s attack is always a fearsome prospect but Napoli have a particular cause for concern. Right-back Elseid Hysaj was given a torrid afternoon by Cristiano Ronaldo on Saturday – not that there’s any shame in that – and given the way Sadio Mane’s started the season, there’s a clear weakness on the pitch to exploit.

Whether he’s recovered from his weekend dressing-down will be fascinating to watch – unless he’s removed from the firing line completely. Any player can have one bad game, but the Partenopei can ill-afford a repeat on Wednesday, and they do have summer signing Kevin Malcuit waiting in the wings.

Elseid Hysaj struggled at right-back in Napoli's clash against Juventus.

Elseid Hysaj struggled at right-back in Napoli’s clash against Juventus.

MILIK AND LONG-BALL MAY BE NAPOLI’S TRUMP CARD

Dries Mertens started against Juventus on Saturday, and scored, but Arkadiusz Milik has actually made more starts than the Belgian who was Napoli’s top scorer last season. Given that the long ball is one tried and tested way of dealing with Liverpool’s press, Milik might just get the nod on Wednesday.

The bolder call from Ancelotti would be to drop captain Marek Hamsik. Club legend though he may be, he’s been far off top form this season. Benching the Slovakian would allow Mertens and Milik to play together, with the duo having the potential to form a lethal partnership.

Milik could be Ancelotti's ace up the sleeve.

Milik could be Ancelotti’s ace up the sleeve.

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Real Madrid still strong despite injury list, says CSKA Moscow's Alan Dzagoev

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CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev does not think Real Madrid will be any weaker without their injured stars.

The two sides meet in the Champions League in Moscow on Tuesday night.

“Madrid are a great club and they have enough players for two squads,” he said.

“They have players capable of replacing those who stayed in Madrid. I don’t think that’ll make it any easier for CSKA.”

CSKA boss Viktor Goncharenko paid tribute to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, 32, who announced his retirement from international football on Monday after making 114 appearances for Russia.

“Speaking as a fan it’s a shame, but speaking as a coach he’ll be able to focus 100 per cent on CSKA,” Goncharenko told a press conference.

“I hope we can give him some more easy games. He’s in good shape and is at the right age to continue playing at the top.”

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