Champions League Group B
Group B could be decided top to bottom by with the results of this game. With Inter and Tottenham tied on points (in the lead due to goals for), a loss here could send Tottenham out. The other game being played, Inter and PSV could also provide some decision factor but (at least on paper) Inter has a much easier matchup. Today’s game will be played at Camp Nou in Barcelona. The sides don’t have much history between them, only the 1981-1982 European Cup Winners Cup Semifinal. That series yielded a 1-1 draw at Whitehart Lane and a 1-0 loss at Camp Nou. Then there’s this year, where Tottenham we’re beat soundly at Wembley by Barcelona ending in a 2-4 defeat.
Barcelona are one of the perennial competitors for the late stages of this competition. They have a monstrous trophy room (I’ve been – believe me, it’s monstrous) and they’d love nothing more than to defeat a Premier League side. Spurs were beaten badly by Messi and Barca and it could have easily been much worse. Messi while scoring two goals, also had an additional 2 shots that cannoned off the crossbar. FiveThirtyEight thinks that Barcelona have a 13% chance to add yet another trophy to their case. In fact, the only team with a greater likelihood to win it all is Manchester City.
FC Barcelona are riding high at the top of the La Liga table, though despite a +22 goal differential, they are only ahead by 3 points. In their last 6, they have 4 wins, 1 draw, and a loss (to Real Bettis, 7th place). Possibly, more importantly for Barcelona supporters is the gap between them and bitter rival Real Madrid, which is up to 5 points. Barcelona’s record is basically the same regardless of where they play — which is probably not a great omen for Tottenham. They’d probably prefer to have consolidated their lead at the top of La Liga as well as they’d like, but at some point it seems only reasonable to assume that their goal differential will manifest as points.
Barcelona have been on a tear in the Champions League, they’ve had only one draw to Inter. Otherwise, it’s been nothing but the full 3 points since they started. Barcelona have already advanced to the next round assuredly with 13 points. The next closest challenger has 7 points, meaning that Barcelona will be going on to the knockout rounds as the top qualifier from Group B. Overall in the league Barcelona are scoring 2.6 goals per game on average and allowing less than 1 per game. At home, Barcelona have yet to concede a goal and are scoring 3 goals per game (to along with the three points). Barcelona’s form is matched only by Porto (who have 1 less goal differential) as the joint best form in the Champions League, both sides turning in a ridiculous 13 points out of 5 games and +8 or better goal differential.
In our last write up about Tottenham we talked about how they were selected as a dark horse candidate and they were the first Premier League team not to sign a player in the summer window. At some point though, Tottenham fans are going to want more than setting a record for not doing something. Tottenham hasn’t garnered any meaningful successes (aka championships/trophies) in the Premier League era except a lone League Cup trophy. While that is a trophy, it’s considered a “minor trophy” in this day and age. Tottenham are walking a thin line about crashing out of the Champions League again, and going down to the Europa League. Though, their chances of winning the competition may improve markedly after dropping down to the Europa League.
Although coming off of a 4-2 away defeat followed by a 1-0 win at Southampton, Tottenham continue away success. They are dropping almost all of their points at home, contrary to the norm. Their “home” form at Wembley hasn’t been good — but Wembley had never been particularly kind to Tottenham. They have the 11th best home form, compared to the best away form in the league. If I were a Tottenham fan, I’d be counting down the days until they move back to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (or at least the newest revised date). The old White Hart Lane held a few record streak, most favorably the 2016-2017 season which held a remarkable 14 straight wins.
Ironically enough for Tottenham fans, it’s been their away form that has been bad in the Champions League. Their home form has been good capturing 6 of 9 available points from their 3 matches. This is really a must-win for Tottenham, they are competing for the 2nd knockout stage spot with an Inter side that has matchup with a winless PSV Einhoven team (who’s only point was from Tottenham). Both of the teams remaining in the hunt for the second spot have a negative goal differential, although Tottenham has scored several more goals than Inter. Ultimately though, it comes down to this away game at Camp Nou — can Pochettino get the result? Or are they going to languish in the Europa League?
What to expect
I expect this to be a free-flowing, attacking game. Tottenham has everything to gain and really nothing to lose. This game kicks off at the same time as the Inter v. PSV game, and so Tottenham will have to go all out thinking their Champions League hopes are on the line (which, they are). While a win doesn’t guarantee them the next round, it certainly betters their odds — because in order to surpass them, Inter would have to win on points, then goal differential, and then goals scored. This, means that unless Tottenham give up a boatload, they have a good opportunity.
I think the strategy from Barcelona in this game is going to be to turn Tottenham over and then counter attack. I’m going with Tottenham conceding at least one on the counter, and I think the game will be largely up to the Tottenham defense. As Tottenham gets plenty of shots, it’s been their defending that has let them down in the Champions League.