Champions League Wednesday Preview: Tottenham host Barcelona while Liverpool make the trip to Napoli
With Champions Real losing in Moscow to Manchester City breaking their four match losing streak in Germany, Tuesday night brought many weird games and weirder results. Drab home draws for Manchester United and Bayern Munich in their respective groups also added more variables to seemingly straight and narrow equations.
With Liverpool and Tottenham playing on Wednesday, we are sure to get another rich diet of European football, goals and smattering of drama.
Here is the preview of those two matches:
Tottenham vs Barcelona
Spurs will host Barcelona in their first Champions League home fixture of the season. The Catalans will be back at the stadium where they produced probably their most impressive display, annihilating Sir Alex’s Manchester United in a one-sided 3-1 score line.
Form (all competitions): LLLWWW
Tottenham succumbed to their second loss at the San Siro last month when they conceded late goals to Icardi and Vecino. Spurs were coming off two straight losses against Watford and Liverpool and lost concentration in the last five minutes of ‘harakiri football’.
They host Barcelona on Wednesday night in a different frame of mind and vein of form. Coming off of three straight victories, the Lilywhites return to Wembley after three weeks of travel. The 2-0 win at Huddersfield on Saturday will also bring defensive assurance to a Spurs team without their talismanic captain Hugo Loris in goal.
Pochettino will be hoping to revive the spirit of last year when Spurs defeated Blaugrana's archrivals Real Madrid 3-1. Their home form was the reason for their progression last year with accompanying victories against Borussia Dortmund and APOEL.
Tottenham’s dream run in 2010-11 to the quarter-finals remain their best showing in the competition and with three successive appearances in the group stages, it is the hour to pit their best against Messi and his Catalans.
Dele Alli is still recovering from his injury while Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Hugo Lloris are also doubtful for the match.
Michel Vorm’s injury may see third-choice keeper Paulo Gazzaniga make his fourth successive start in the white of Tottenham.
Form (all competitions): WWWDLD
Barcelona are coming off a mini-crisis with no wins in their last three matches. Their last victory was their 4-0 thrashing of PSV in the Champions League opener. It was Messi's eighth Champions League hat-trick that made that match a breeze. They had a six-match winning streak at that moment
Home draws to s Girona and Athletic Bilbao and a 2-1 shock away loss to Leganes has certainly disturbed the script for the Catalans. The 1-1 draw against Athletic club on the weekend was severely criticized in the press for lacking the true Barca imagination. Messi and Busquets were rested for that match.
The La Liga outfit has struggled in Europe in recent years with three successive quarter-final exits. Domestically they have fared far better, winning two of the last year La Liga titles. Clearly, getting back their European supremacy takes precedence over the league, especially with arch-nemesis Real Madrid ruling the roost in the competition.
Barcelona will be without defenders Samuel Umtiti and Sergi Roberto. In their absence, Nelson Semedo and Clement Lenglet will be expected to fill the gaps.
Arturo Vidal may come in for an away fixture in place of more enterprising Ousmane Dembele to provide more defensive cover. Messi and Busquets will definitely not be rested for this match.
The only clash between the two clubs came in the semi-finals of the 1982 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. Barcelona won 1-0 at Camp Nou and drew 1-1 at White Hart Lane.
Spurs won all three home games last season with three goals in. Mauricio Pochettino, who managed Espanyol before coming to England, has only win in nine meetings with Barcelona. Spurs will be banking on Harry Kane to come good. He has nine goals 11 Champions League appearances.
Barcelona have won just one away match in their last seven Champions League trips.
Their last trip to England was at Chelsea last season, a 1-1 draw on their way to progression form the last 16 stage. A 3-1 loss to Manchester City before that leaves them without a win in their last two visits to England. However, Barcelona have just one loss in their last 11 Champions League matches against English clubs with 8 wins and 2 draws.
Lionel Messi has 20 goals (6) assists against English clubs, more than against any other nation. Elsewhere, Gerard Pique will make his 100th Champions League appearance, a record 10th Spaniard to do so.
Napoli vs Liverpool
Liverpool travel to Stadio San Paolo on Wednesday night, looking to secure a second successive victory in the Champions League.
Form (all competitions): LWDWWL
Napoli’s 1-1 draw at Red Star Belgrade means they have to take something off their match against the marauding Reds.
Having progressed from the group stages thrice before, they have work cut out for them to make it four. With the likes of PSG and Liverpool flexing their muscles in the group, the club that once at Maradona the helm will start as underdogs against those two European behemoths.
Their best performance has been the last 16 stage, in both Champions League and its predecessor European Cup.
The side lost their last match 3-1 at Turin, leaving them 6 points off the top spot. To make things worse, they have lost two of their last three European clashes at home - including last year's defeat to Manchester City.
Carlo Ancelotti has won the Cup three times, a record shared with Liverpool's Bob Paisley and Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane.
Ancelotti will be without the services of Alex Meret, Faouzi Ghoulam, Amin Younes and Vlad Chiriches
Dries Mertens is expected to start with Lorenzo Insigne in attack with former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina in the goal.
Form (all competitions): WWWWLD
Liverpool are coming off a couple of difficult matches against Chelsea. They lost 2-1 and exited the EFL Cup and managed to salvage a draw in the Premier League. A late Daniel Sturridge equalizer at Stamford Bridge saved their unbeaten start to the in the Premier League.
The trip to Italy is sandwiched between that draw and a mouthwatering encounter with Manchester City. On Sunday they host the Citizens in a ‘top of the table’ clash.
The last season's runners-up have started spectacularly in this year’s competition with a 3-2 victory against PSG.
Domestically, Liverpool have already beaten the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and are joint top in the league, if only on points.
The sides have met recently. Napoli was on the end of a 5-0 preseason drubbing against the Reds in a preseason friendly a couple of months ago.
Klopp may make wholesale changes with an eye on the weekend clash with City. The trinity of Firmino, Sane and Salah has not hit the heights of last season and may see Sturridge break into the starting XI. The striker has scored in each of his last three appearances including in their last European fixture against PSG.
Naby Keita, who has seen his time on the field cut short by the brilliance of Milner, the return of Henderson and rejuvenation of Wijnaldum, may return to midfield.
Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren may also see some game time if the manager decides to rest either Van Dijk or Joe Gomez.
The two clubs have played against each other competitively twice before, the group stages of the Europa League in 2010-11. The game in Italy ended goalless and Steven Gerrard's hat-trick led Liverpool to a 3-1 victory at Anfield.
Liverpool have lost twice in their last eight visits to Italy, most recent being a defeat against Roma in last season's semi-final.
On a side note, the two sides recently met in a preseason friendly with a 5-0 scoreline in favour of the Reds from Merseyside.