2018-19 Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)

(y-denotes clinched first in Group B)

It is not “Mission: Impossible” but still a daunting challenge for Tottenham Hotspur at the Nou Camp nevertheless: Spurs must at least match the result of fellow Group B side Inter Milan on Tuesday against Barcelona to reach the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Inter are hosting last-place PSV Eindhoven in the other Group B match which is going on simultaneously. The Lilywhites have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament, throwing away points from winning positions at both the San Siro and Philips Stadion in their other two road matches before scrambling to give themselves a chance to advance with wins over both the Italian and Dutch sides.

Tottenham Hotspur, though, will face long odds in trying to deal the Blaugrana their first Champions League defeat at the Nou Camp since Bayern Munich stormed to a 3-0 victory in the second leg of their 2013 semifinal.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at home since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 in those games and not conceding more than once in any of them. The current La Liga leaders have a chance to match the longest Champions League home unbeaten run set by Bayern at 29 games from 1998-2002.

“This is special because it’s special for Tottenham and it’s special for us to have the chance to go to the next stage of the Champions League – and that’s with all the respect to Barcelona,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said at his Monday news conference, himself no stranger to Barcelona derbies from his days as a player and manager with Espanyol.

“We are focused on trying to prepare for the game in the best way. After the victory against Leicester I think it’s important in a decisive game to have confidence and a belief we can win. Of course, in front of us, we are going to have one of the best teams in the world and it’s going to be tough, but the most important thing is to be focused and concentrate on trying to play in our best way and trying to win.

“Without belief in football, it is too difficult to win,” Pochettino added. “I think it’s so important to arrive at that moment with the belief and the faith that we can perform in the best way. After that, we will see what happens in the game because you need some luck and some good things to happen for you but we are confident that we can do a good job.”

The big news for Spurs will be the likely insertion of third-choice Kyle Walker-Peters at right back since both Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier did not make the trip due to injuries. Walker-Peters got a late runout Saturday in Tottenham’s 2-0 win at Leicester City, and the 21-year-old has the complete confidence of manager Mauricio Pochettino heading into this crunch encounter.

“His quality is unbelievable. Younger players always need trust and one day to be given a chance to play and to play here at a difficult place like the Nou Camp will make him stronger. We don’t have a doubt that he can perform,” Pochettino said at Monday’s news conference. “I’m so happy because from the beginning of the season we have three excellent players in that position, three players with different qualities. Kyle has the quality to play.

“He needs to feel free. He’s a very relaxed player and person and the most important thing is that we believe in him, we trust in him and whatever happens he will be a massive success at this Club.”

Walker-Peters is part of a back line who have been severely challenged throughout the season due to injuries as only Toby Alderweireld has emerged unscathed coming off the World Cup summer. Left back Danny Rose and fellow centre backs Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez have all missed time due to injury, with Sanchez still sidelined. A potential centre back replacement, Juan Foyth, is not eligible for this match since he was not on Tottenham’s 25-man roster for group play but is also injured at the moment.

Up front, however, there was good news as playmaking midfielder Erik Lamela was cleared to play and should see his first action since suffering a thigh bruise in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28. Pochettino must choose between Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son among his attacking options alongside striker Harry Kane.

Kane leads the Lilywhites with 13 goals in all competitons, and both he and Son have bagged three in their last five matches in all competitions. Kane also has potted seven goals in his last seven Champions League away matches.

Eriksen has a goal and three assists in that stretch and Alli two goals and two assists as Spurs have racked up 11 goals in those five contests while winning four.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at the Nou Camp in Champions League play since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 during this unbeaten run and have not conceded more than once in any of those contests. There have been five wins over Premier League teams in that stretch, including three over Manchester City.

The Blaugrana have won back-to-back matches and waxed Pochettino’s Espanyol side 4-0 on Saturday as Lionel Messi had a brace on either side of halftime via a pair of jaw-dropping free kicks. Messi also set up a goal by Ousmane Dembele, who set up a goal by Luis Suarez that gave Barca a 3-0 lead right before halftime.

Ernesto Valverde’s team have nothing to play for in this match — Barcelona will finish atop their Champions League group for the 12th consecutive year and the lone blemish was a 1-1 draw at the San Siro versus Inter. Valverde has already decided to hold out Suarez for this match, while it is possible Messi could also be a spectator for the Catalans.

That could prove largely beneficial for Spurs as Messi has tormented English sides with 22 goals and six assists in 29 career Champions League matches. His 22 Champions League goals are the most of any player against English clubs, far outpacing runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo (12).

“There are players with discomfort and it does not fit into my plans, of course, to play then in two games in three days,” Valverde said ahead of the Nou Camp clash when asked about player availability and maintaining the integrity of the match with nothing at stake.

“Inter has nothing to fear. If they had drawn or won, they would have no problem. We have to look after ourselves. We will go out to win but we respect the competition and we want to win.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers are still fairly confident in Barca being able to win without at least Suarez and potentially Messi as well, entering this contest as 19/20 favourites. Spurs are 5/2 underdogs to get a victory that could potentially propel them to the knockout round, and there are 10/3 odds on the sides splitting the points.

After the ragged six-goal match between the sides at Wembley on Match Day 2, it is also not surprising their are 1/2 odds for the clubs to clear 2.5 goals compared to the 13/8 odds to finish below it. There are similar 1/2 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while 6/4 odds exist for at least one clean sheet.

With Messi still at least a possibility to play, he leads the toteboard for first goal-scorers at 11/4 with plenty of daylight between him and Kane at 4/1. Dembele is an 11/2 selection as the third-most likely option, while one-time Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho has 6/1 odds. Barca’s El Haddadi Munir rounds out the top five options at 13/2 just ahead of a whole slew of Spurs to make it 0-1 — Fernando Llorente (7/1), Son and Moura (15/2), Alli and Lamela (10/1) and Eriksen (11/1).

Messi is an 8/13 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Kane is even money to do likewise. Dembele again edges out Coutinho for third at 7/5 compared to 8/5 for the Brasil international, with Munir (7/4) and Llorente (15/8) completing the group at better than 2/1 odds. Son and Moura start that group, followed by Alli and Lamela at 11/4 and Eriksen at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Let’s be blunt about this for a second: Spurs are going to have to win this match because the odds of PSV getting a victory at the San Siro are far longer at 17/2 than the Lilywhites at that more modest 5/2 offering. That said, Tottenham are going to have to withstand the first half-hour of this match — no small challenge since Barcelona were two up in the reverse fixture before 30 minutes had passed at Wembley.

That means the spotlight will shine brightest on Walker-Peters, who has not played a minute of the previous five group contests. His under-20 turn with England aside, Walker-Peters’ lone match action for Spurs before Saturday’s late runout came in their Carabao Cup win over West Ham United on Halloween.

While he may miss out on Suarez, Coutinho will undoubtedly be someone to mark, and that does not even account for the interplay between the Brasilian and Messi, who would likely move into the false No. 9 role without Suarez into the middle of Barca’s three-man front. Messi has accounted for six of Barcelona’s 13 goals in Champions League play, but no one else on the La Liga side has more than one.

Tottenham have shown plenty of fight in getting to this point, and they also showed plenty of it in that loss to Barcelona at Wembley, twice drawing within one goal before a 90th-minute marker from Messi sealed that victory. But a victory at the Nou Camp by any English club is rare — the lone one in 30 matches since the start of the 1976-77 season was a 2-1 win by Liverpool in 2007.

There will be plenty of heart for Tottenham to display, but the fact Pochettino’s side have to play an open match to equal Inter’s result means Barcelona will have many opportunities themselves, and the Catalan side are too ruthless to not take advantage.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Barcelona 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

Champions League Match Day 2 preview — Barcelona (1-0-0, +4, 4-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-1, -1, 1-2)

Last year, Tottenham Hotspur announced their intentions to be a player at the continental level with their stellar play against Spanish power Real Madrid in Champions League group play.

This time around, the injury-ravaged north London side will need another such performance just to make sure they don’t dig too deep a hole for themselves to get out of Group B on Tuesday when they face leaders Barcelona at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Tottenham endured their first downswing of the season, recovering from three losses on the bounce in all competitions with a pair of league wins around advancing in the Carabao Cup on penalties over Watford. Harry Kane appears ready to kick on for the season after his stellar World Cup for England, recording a first-half brace in Spurs’ 2-0 victory at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

Kane, though, will be receiving service from a midfield significantly thinned through injury. Playmakers Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are sidelined, along with defender Jan Vertonghen. Barcelona’s potent trident of ex-Liverpool strikers Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez along with Lionel Messi means Erik Lamela’s creativity might be anchored to the bench as Harry Winks and Eric Dier soak up pressure until he becomes vital to potentially rescue a point.

“Tomorrow we do not win or lose because players are out,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino told The Times. “We win or lose and take responsibility. If we don’t win, it is because we do not deserve to and it will be my responsibility. I don’t want easy excuses. Of course I prefer everyone to be available but I am not going to say we don’t have a chance because this or that guy is out.”

Still, it was Winks who was a revelation for Tottenham last season with a spectacular effort in their 1-1 draw at Real Madrid that doubled as the London side’s coming out party to the continent en route to their eventual round of 16 finish. His distribution forward could be the swing vote in this game that determines just how much work the Spurs have left in their final four group matches.

One guy expected to be back in is No. 1 keeper Hugo Lloris, who missed six games due to a thigh injury on the heels of his drink-driving arrest in August, including Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat at Inter Milan to open group play a fortnight ago in which No. 2 Michel Vorm conceded twice after the 85th minute. He was then injured, forcing Pochettino to turn to Paulo Gazzaniga for the last three contests.

Lloris has not played since posting a clean sheet in the Lilywhites’ most complete performance of the season, a 3-0 victory at Manchester United on Aug. 27.

Barcelona are atop Group B after a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing of Dutch side PSV Eindhoven two weeks ago as Messi recorded his 48th career hat trick and raised his Champions League goal haul to 103 in 126 matches. The Argentina international opened the scoring in the 32nd minute before adding his other two in the final 13 minutes following a marker by Ousmane Dembele to start the final quarter-hour.

Messi has not been as proficient outside the Nou Camp in Champions League play, though his 41 goals in 64 away matches cannot be simply binned and ignored. He has also factored on six of Barca’s last eight goals in all competitions over the last four matches, but the defence has not been up to snuff as they have recorded draws at home versus Girona and Athletic Bilbao around a 2-1 defeat at Leganes.

Attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitic, no stranger to an England-laden Spurs side after he tormented a good portion of them in leading Croatia to victory in the World Cup semifinals, said that Barcelona are in good spirits despite the recent run of disappointing results.

“Defending Barça is the greatest thing there is,” he told the club’s official website. “Two games shouldn’t affect us and the important thing is to be all together. We must improve, but we are calm because we are preparing well.”

Manager Ernesto Valverde has been forced into one change for this match, with centre back Samuel Umtiti serving a one-match ban for his two bookings against PSV. That puts Clement Lenglet squarely in Kane’s cross-hairs as he will try to form an airtight tandem with Gerald Pique. That, however, has not happened as Barcelona have yet to record a clean sheet in the two matches they have started together.

One of the interesting sidebars to this contest is Valverde was the manager who ended Pochettino’s playing career while at Espanyol. The Spurs boss said there are no hatchets to bury since they spoke to each other during their tour of the United States in the summer, though Pochettino did admit in his book Valverde’s decision was “hard to accept.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Barcelona are firm road favourites with 19/20 odds, while Spurs are 5/2 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly longer than a home side victory at 13/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting there to be goals at Wembley, with Barca getting 7/4 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, while Spurs are getting 4/1 odds on the high side of goals scored. The odds of a 0-0 draw or 1-1 draw are 17/4, slightly shorter than a 1-0 or 2-0 Barcelona win (19/4). There is not much confidence in a low-scoring Spurs victory, which shares the longest odds with a 2-2 draw or higher at 8/1.

Messi leads the list for first goal-scorers at 16/5, edging out Kane and Suarez — who are joint-second at 4/1. Munir El Hadaddi, who has played all of 72 minutes this season for Barcelona, is a curious fourth option at 5/1 ahead of Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente (13/2) and Dembele (7/1).

Messi has better than even money to score during the match at 19/20, with Kane not far behind him at 6/5. Suarez lurks behind the pair at 13/10, with Coutinho and Spurs counterpart Heung-Min Son further back at 12/5, just ahead of Lucas Moura (13/5).

PREDICTION

While Pochettino is correct in moving on past the lament of who is not available for him in this game, getting Lloris back — as expected — is a huge bonus for Tottenham. A better shot-stopper than Gazzaniga, Lloris will also command the penalty area batter than the third-string keeper, something that was vitally missing late in the Lilywhites’ defeat at the San Siro when Inter came at them in waves.

Missing Vertonghen, though, will be a huge negative and one that may result in Pochettino playing more of a five-man back at times similar to what they did at the Bernabeu last season. The wide backs’ discipline will be especially important on the left, where Ben Davies will be tasked with making sure Rakitic doesn’t make overlapping runs and various other offensive feints in tandem with Messi.

Messi, Suarez and Coutinho have accounted for 70 of Barcelona’s 150 shots on target thus far and 13 of their 22 goals. Suarez, though, has a spotty track record on the road in Champions League play, going 13 matches without a marker since netting at AS Roma in 2015. In his abbreviated run with Liverpool last term before joining Barcelona and having to watch knockout round play, Coutinho totaled five goals and three assists in five group matches before getting an assist versus PSV.

How Tottenham go in the midfield is how this match will likely go. If Dier and Winks can disrupt passes and hold possession, the Spurs can find themselves in a position to potentially steal three points. If they wind up chasing ghosts amid the rapid-fire passing of Rakitic, Arthur, and Sergio Busquets and leaving open patches of pitch for Messi and company, it will be a long night at Wembley.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, BARCELONA 3.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS:

Napoli (0-1-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0)