La Liga: Messi Not Enough for Troubled Barcelona

Valencia 1-1 Barcelona

Barcelona had a chance to take the solo lead at the top of La Liga, but struggling Valencia proved to be a tough nut to crack for the Catalans.

After falling behind  Marcelino’s charges early, Messi scored midway through the first half to bring Barca back into the game. However, the Argentine’s effort was not enough to spark a turnaround as they failed to break down the Valencia defence.

In the end, Barca had to share the spoils, extending their winless skid in the Spanish top flight to four games and dropping them to second in the table—behind surprise league leaders Sevilla.

Highlights of the game

Valencia weren’t expected to put up a fight against the reigning league champions. After all, they struggled in their opening six games and only got their first win of the campaign in Real Sociedad last month.

The La Liga 2018 odds at us even put them as overwhelming underdogs heading into this fixture, with Ernesto Valverde’s mighty Catalans fresh from a 4-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League.

Nonetheless, Los Che made no sense of the pre-match predictions and smashed the odds as they went ahead less than 120 seconds into the game.

Valencia took advantage of some woeful defending—and another Gerard Pique error—to break the deadlock. Ezequiel Garay opened the scoring for the hosts, tapping in from a Dani Parejo corner kick after Pique messed his attempt to clear the ball.

Marcelino’s men almost doubled their lead too when, six minutes after the opener, on-loan Chelsea forward Michy Batshuayi forced Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a fine save. Geoffrey Kondogbia had a chance for Valencia as well, though to no avail.

Ezequiel Garay has posed a tough challenge to Barcelona after scoring an early goal for Valencia during La Liga match

Valencia defender Ezequiel Garay celebrates after scoring a 2nd-minute goal against Barcelona in La Liga

Unfortunately for the home team, Goncalo Guedes’ injury changed the flow of the game. Guedes had a bright start for Valencia and caused plenty of problems for Barca in the midfield, but he suffered what appeared to be a knee injury in the 12th minute and was immediately replaced by Russian star Denis Cheryshev.

Barca exploited the loss of an important offensive piece for Valencia, and 11 minutes later, they found the equaliser they were looking for.

Messi linked up well with Luis Suarez, and a quick one-two between the strikers resulted to a fine Messi goal from 20 yards. The Argentine maestro smashed a powerful low drive into the bottom left corner, leaving Valencia keeper Neto no chance at all.

Barcelona dictated the game for the most part, including in the second half. But the best opportunities fell on Valencia who were unlucky not to add more to their tally.

Cheryshev and Kevin Gameiro both had legitimate shots at putting Valencia ahead again, but the former’s effort was denied by Ter Stegen while the latter’s strike sailed over.

Barcelona’s best chance in the payoff period went to Philippe Coutinho when he was left with only the keeper to beat, but the Brazilian playmaker dawdled on the ball far too much, allowing Jose Gaya to stop what would have been an easy shot.

Valencia’s defence, anchored by Gaya, held on to get their sixth stalemate of the campaign and deny Barcelona an easy return to the top.

Key statistics

It’s now four league games without a win for Barcelona, and they have no one to blame but themselves for their slump.

They could have been the headline of La Liga 2018 news right now, but they were wasteful against Valencia. Although they had 76 percent possession, 10 shots and five clear-cut scoring opportunities, they lacked the fire that they showed in the Tottenham match.

Messi—whose goal in the game is his 22nd in 25 matches with Valencia—is also suspect, struggling to get over the defence despite a particularly dominant second half.

Valencia, meanwhile, would still be happy with the result despite their increasing reputation as poor closers. They haven’t won a league game against Barca since 2007, but this result should give them more confidence in their quest to replicate their top-four finish last year.

What’s next?

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valvere isn't amused with how the team fare in the last four games in La Liga

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde looks dismayed after their 2-2 draw with Girona last September 23 at Camp Nou

Barcelona now have time to go back to the drawing board, thanks to the upcoming international break. They will face league-leaders Sevilla when they return, in what should be a thrilling top-of-the-table battle at the Nou Camp.

Sevilla toppled Barca from the top spot after bagging four straight La Liga wins, the latest against Leganes, and their battle in two weeks’ time will be a decider on which team will have the right to sit on the summit for another week.

Valencia, on the other hand, will have another chance to get their second win and climb up the rankings when they visit 18th-placed Leganes after the break.

 

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Ramos brands Lopetegui sack talk crazy

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos says it would be madness for the club to sack head coach Julen Lopetegui because of their early-season struggles.

Lopetegui was only handed the reins at the Bernabeu during the summer but has fond it tough to fill the big shoes left by Zinedine Zidane, while the fallout of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure to Juventus continues.

Los Blancos have failed to win any of their last four matches, losing three of them with Alaves causing a major surprise when they came out on top on Saturday.

Having failed to make the breakthrough for the fourth game running, Real were punished in the 95th minute when substitute Manu Garcia headed home the win for the Babazorros.

The last time the reigning European champions went four matches without a win was in 1985 and the club's response at the time was to fire coach Amancio Ortega.

Former Spain coach Lopetegui has insisted he's not thinking about the possibility of getting the boot, insisting it is far too early in his reign for such drastic action.

Ramos has echoed his manager's sentiments by insisting there is no need to replace Lopetegui at this stage.

"There are other people to make those decisions, its not part of the player's role," he said. "For a squad, it is never good to change coach. It is not in our hands. It would be crazy, the team is fighting for the top spots. We must keep our feet on the ground, be more calm, and try and turns things around.

"Everyone will have their own opinion. There are times when a change has been better, and others not, you never know. It is very soon to talk about changing coach. It is not up to the players, others have to take that decision."

Real are now 11/4 to win Primera Liga this season as they remain level on points with Barcelona at the top of the table.

However, Barca could still a march on their rivals heading into the international break by getting the better Valencia on Sunday night.

Barcelona, who have had their own issues recently, are 13/20 to come out on top at the Mestalla, while Los Che are 15/4 and the draw is 16/5.

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La Liga: Barcelona Hope to Bounce Back Against Valencia

Valencia vs Barcelona

This game would have been an easy pick in favour of Barcelona if this was any other day in La Liga. However, the view at the top of the table could not be any more muddled.

The Blaugrana may still be at the top of the league at the moment, but the rough patch they are in have effectively erased the fantastic start they had to the season. They are tied with bitter rivals Real Madrid when it comes to points, and six other teams below them are more than capable of taking the top in two fixtures or less.

Ernesto Valverde knows that a visit to Marcelino’s Valencia at the Mestalla is not the easiest of games, but the defending champions need to make their stand if they want to keep their hold of the top spot of the championship.

It definitely helps the Valencia vs Barcelona betting tips that Valverde has that man named Lionel Messi running around the pitch on a Barca shirt.

Talking Points

I think there’s enough reason for the millions of Barcelona fans around the world to be upset with the way Valverde’s men have played in the league. They were miles ahead of their closest rivals after beating Real Sociedad when the sudden slump caught them with their pants off and worrying about their place.

The 2-2 draw against Girona at Camp Nou was unexpected but forgivable. Their loss to bottom club Leganes was a bitter pill to swallow, though. Their draw against Athletic Bilbao, despite the league leaders being on cruise control for much of the match, had almost all of Catalonia pick up their pitchforks in protest.

Fortunately for them, they seem to have broken their winless rut after an impressive showing at Wembley against Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur. Messi was the star man, as usual: the man picked by Pele over Cristiano Ronaldo scored two important goals that helped the team ward off a persistent Tottenham side.

Barcelona expects Arthur Melo to continue his incredible form in La Liga

FC Barcelona midfielder Arthur Melo controls the ball against AC Milan midfielder Jose Mauri

The Argentine wizard is not the biggest piece of La Liga 2018 news, however. I have to say that Arthur Melo’s emergence as a premier midfield option is much more important for Valverde and Barcelona’s chances of defending their title.

The 22-year-old acquisition from Gremio was simply fantastic against Spurs. He showcased outstanding vision despite heavy pressure from the North London side’s defenders, which got fans and pundits buzzing and marking him as the second coming of Barcelona legend Xavi.

However, the entire team must step up and carry over the momentum of their Champions League victory to their domestic campaigns. Gerard Pirzue must step up to the plate as Samuel Umtiti will be out due to a knee injury. Ousmane Dembele and Ivan Rakitic must also play better against Los Che.

Meanwhile, Valencia will be playing in front of their home fans somewhat satisfied. They put some distance between them and the drop zone by winning their first game of the season against Real Sociedad.

They followed that result with a spirited outing against a dismal Manchester United. While the final score was goalless, it cannot be denied that they got the moral victory: Jose Mourinho could just not get his men to play good football, and Valencia made the most of what they were served.

However, they know better than anyone that they cannot rely on mere luck if they want to keep their win streak going against the league’s most prolific attacking outfit. It is already worrying that Jose Gaya and Gabriel Paulista, two of their highest-rated first-team players, have not cracked the 7.00 rating threshold.

 I don’t think he can rely on his attack either. They have only scored four times over the course of one-and-a-half month’s worth of football, and that is a worrying statistic for any team trying to juggle its roster to compete on home soil and in Europe.

History

us predictions rely heavily on current form and their head-to-head results to make an informed decision, and things aren’t looking good for the hosts.

They have only won 12 of the 58 games they have played against Barcelona, while the Catalan giants have notched 31 victories on the back of 116 goals scored. Moreover, it does not matter where they play: Barcelona won 17 games at Camp Nou and 14 at the Estadio de Mestalla.

Their recent head-to-heads have also ended badly for Los Che. Of the last six games they played, only one ended in a draw. The rest have been multi-goal affairs. The most painful of the last six was the 4-2 humiliation Valencia endured at Camp Nou in March 2017.

Betting Tip

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Valencia vs Barcelona Barcelona Asian Handicap -0.75 @ 1.96
October 8, 02:45 AM (GMT+8)

I think Barca found something at Wembley that helped them wake up from their struggles. With Messi scoring a brace, I don’t have any doubts that one of the most beloved teams in club football will find themselves on the win column once again.

As much as I would like to see Valencia put up a strong fight and pull off a magnificent upset, their sole win against Real Sociedad is not convincing enough for me. It doesn’t help their case that they weren’t able to close out games against Levante and Celta de Vigo.

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?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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Spurs response pleases Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino was proud of the way his Spurs team reacted to conceding an early goal to push Barcelona hard, before eventually losing out 4-2 at Wembley.

Former Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho gave the visitors the lead inside two minutes, with Ivan Rakitic making the half-time score 2-0 to the Catalan giants.

However, the second half was a 2-2 draw, with Harry Kane and Erik Lamela netting for Tottenham and Lionel Messi adding a double for Barcelona.

And, while being annoyed by such an early concession, head coach Pochettino was full of praise for the reaction of his players as the game progressed.

He told reporters: "To concede a goal so early, we destroyed the plan. If we start the game this way, it's so tough for the players.

"We were handicapped after conceding after one minute and I think our players were heroes to chase the game against a team with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

"That is why I want to congratulate the team, because we were always in the game, always fighting, never giving up – I feel so proud. I'm disappointed with the result, but the effort was massive.

"To give that advantage to a team like Barcelona is so difficult to come back from. The most important thing was our character."

Spurs are back in Premier League action on Saturday when they welcome in winless Cardiff City.

The Londoners are 1/4 to win the game and 15/2 to claim a 3-0 victory, with Tottenham 8/13 to go on and secure a top-four finish this season.

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Champions League: Magnificent Messi Lights Up Wembley

Tottenham Hotspur 2-4 Barcelona

As Champions League games go, this was as enthralling as it had always promised to be.

From the first whistle to last, us fans who expected a compelling encounter weren’t disappointed.

And on a night which will live long in the memory of neutrals, the majestic Lionel Messi had the final word.

Highlights of the game

The Champions League 2018 odds favoured Barcelona, and it took just 92 seconds before they had the advantage at Wembley.

Hugo Lloris hadn’t played for over a month, and it looked like the Spurs goalkeeper was in a world of his own in his first game back since their win at Old Trafford late last August.

The French World Cup winning captain came excitedly off his line when he didn’t need to, and the quick-thinking Jordi Alba played the ball into the path of Philippe Coutinho who drilled it into an empty net from 20 yards.

The bunch of home defenders and fans looked stunned as Lloris, trying to sweep up, was left stranded and Barcelona had their dream start.

It was a goal that Tottenham failed to recover from in a first half in which the Catalans oozed class on their return to the scene of their 2011 Champions League triumph.

Barcelona forward Philippe Coutinho put his side ahead after just two minutes in the Champions League

Barcelona forward Philippe Coutinho celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal during their Champions League match against Tottenham Hotspur

One became two before the half-hour mark as Coutinho pulled the back to Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic, whose 25-yard volley flew past Lloris and in via the post. It was another sumptuous finish, though this time Lloris could not be blamed.

The Spurs were spirited and, had Song Heung-Min’s reply not been disallowed moments later for a handball in the build-up, it may have been game-on.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen also kept out a deflected Lucas Moura cross to further frustrate the hosts, but it was almost game over within seconds of the restart as Messi swept forward with ease and beat Lloris only to see his shot come back off the post.

When the Argentine maestro, unplayable at times, struck the post again moments later, Tottenham were counting their lucky stars.

Incredibly, the hosts found themselves immediately back into a contest when they could easily have been 0-4 down.

Son deceived visiting defender Nelson Semedo and Harry Kane showed his class with an expertly placed finish.

Almost affronted by being pegged back when they were so dominant, Barcelona replied almost instantly.

This time, Messi was third time lucky and not to be denied as Alba cut the ball back, Coutinho and Luis Suarez left it and the No.10 caressed it beyond Lloris.

It was no more than the Catalans deserved.

They were unfortunate when, 10 minutes later, Erik Lamela’s shot took a deflection off Clement Lenglet and looped over Ter Stegen. With that, the topsy-turvy encounter was back on.

Barcelona’s defence may not be half as good as it once was but, led by Champions League centurion Gerard Pique, they were able to keep out the Spurs for the remaining 25 minutes before the brilliant Messi made sure the Champions League 2018 news headlines were all about him.

Ninety minutes were on the clock when the relentless Alba beat home sub Moussa Sissoko to the ball and, after Suarez left the ball, the unmarked Messi made no mistake.

On this form, it’s hard to bet against him and Barca. On the other side, the Spurs have now got their work cut out after back-to-back defeats in Group B.

Key statistics

This was Gerard Pique’s 100th Champions League appearance (with Manchester United and Barcelona).

Lionel Messi has now scored 22 goals in 29 games against English sides.

Barcelona have won their group in each of the past 11 seasons and have reached at least the quarter-finals in all of those UEFA Champions League campaigns, both competition records.

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde dropped Pochettino, then 34, when he took over at Espanyol in 2006—the Argentine defender ended up retiring as a player shortly afterwards.

Coutinho’s goal was the quickest in the competition since Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel (36 seconds) for PSV Eindhoven against Olympiacos FC in 2005.

Kane has scored 10 goals in 12 Champions League appearances.

Lamela’s deflected strike was the 8,000th goal in Champions League history.

What’s next?

The Spurs are back in action at Wembley in a few days’ time when newly promoted Cardiff City visit them.

West Ham are their first opponents after the international break before their Champions League group resumes with a trip to PSV Eindhoven.

Barcelona travel to fellow Champions League competitors Valencia in La Liga this weekend and then welcome Sevilla to the Nou Camp after the break. After that, their European combat continues with the visit of Inter Milan.

 

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Scaloni coy on Messi retirement

Argentina interim coach Lionel Scaloni has admitted he does not know if Lionel Messi will ever play for his country again.

The Barcelona star has not been named in the squad for the upcoming friendlies against the likes of Brazil and Iraq.

Having also missed out on two matches last month, there have been suggestions Messi could have played his final game for Argentina.

Scaloni has revealed he has been in talks with Messi but can't confirm if the 31-year-old will ever lead his nation in the future.

"I spoke with Messi about 10 days ago, after the talk we made the final decision he is not to be called up.

"We do not talk about what could happen in a while, we talked about how the team played because honestly Leo sees everything.

"But not beyond that because in my head we have not planned more than six games."

For the moment Messi appears to be solely focused on bringing success to Barcelona, who are in Champions League action on Wednesday night.

The Blaugrana travel to Wembley to face Tottenham, looking to maintain their winning start to the European campaign against Spurs.

Spurs are 29/10 to win, 29/10 to draw and 19/20 to lose to the Blaugrana.

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Lloris set for Spurs return

Tottenham skipper Hugo Lloris is set to start for the north Londoners when they host Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The talented keeper, who helped guide France to World Cup glory over the summer, has been out of action for the last six games due to a thigh injury.

However, Lloris was training on Tuesday and is set to give Mauricio Pochettino's side a much-needed boost as they look to bounce back from their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Inter Milan in their last Champions League outing.

Spurs will be without some key personnel for Wednesday's visit of Barca to Wembley, with Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Serge Aurier and Dele Alli all expected to be unavailable.

Having not signed a single player over the summer window, Pochettino says he has been keen to find solutions rather than look for excuses when it comes to the squad's strength in depth.

He said: "The expectation always grows and one wants to improve year after year, but the reality of the club is the one that we are living now. We are the only club in Europe that have not signed a new player.

"That's the reality but the demand and desire is always to improve. Do not use it [lack of summer signings] as an excuse and you have to be stronger, be creative and look for solutions rather than trying to evade responsibility."

Spurs are 29/10 to win, 29/10 to draw and 19/20 to lose to the Blaugrana.

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A Cosmopolitan Champions League Clash in the Capital

Tottenham Hotspur vs Barcelona

It has so many hallmarks to be a Champions League classic.

Two attack-minded teams with defences which can be breached too easily at times locking horns at the home of English football.

No wonder us fans are salivating at the prospect.

Talking Points

Much of the Champions League 2018 news in the build-up to this has focused on the comments of the Catalan’s star man Lionel Messi.

After a 2-1 defeat at Leganes last week, Barcelona needed the introduction of Messi to help them earn a point on Saturday in a 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao.

He then was shown a yellow card after the full-time whistle for airing his frustrations too much for the official’s liking.

It capped a disappointing few days for the club and led to the mercurial number 10 to call for a fast improvement by his team.

There’s no chance coach Ernesto Valverde will not start Messi and Sergio Busquets this time. It is precisely this game they were rested for at the weekend.

Champions League: Barcelona captain Lionel Messi and company to face Tottenham at Wembley

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi at the bench during their La Liga match against Athletic Bilbao

Sergio Roberto, who started in place of Busquets, likely will miss the trip to England after coming off injured against Bilbao, as will Samuel Umtiti.

New signing Malcom has also been left out of the 20-man squad.

Despite not playing particularly well and dropping seven points from three games, Barcelona certainly should not panic.

They remain top of La Liga and very much possess an excellent squad, if not quite the dominant force they have been at times over the past decade.

Of course, Barcelona have fond memories of Wembley, the scene of their 1992 and 2011 European Cup triumphs.

This is a crucial spell for the club with fixtures against Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan and arch-rivals Real Madrid all to come during October.

After their defence was breached so emphatically in the past week, Harry Kane and co will fancy their chances.

Remember, Spurs beat European Champions Real 3-1 at Wembley last season and cannot afford another defeat after going down late on in their opening group match to Inter Milan a fortnight ago.

Spurs have injury problems of their own with Dele Alli still absent from the home midfield with a hamstring strain.

He missed Spurs’ Premier League match at the weekend along with Christian Eriksen (abdominal) and manager Mauricio Pochetino was forced to replace both Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele at half-time.

Both Belgium internationals are doubts as is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who has missed the past six matches with a thigh problem.

Pochettino had more players at the latter stages of the World Cup than any other club manager and it’s no coincidence, he believes, that many of his players are picking up niggling injuries after failing to have a proper summer break and then missing the majority of pre-season training.

The impressive Pochettino spent six years at Espanyol as a player and then manager but he has admitted that has made it ‘impossible’ to ever manager the Catalonia giants in the years to come, despite many casting an envious glance at the Argentinian’s progress.

Pochettino was heavily linked with a move to Real in the summer following Zinedine Zidane’s decision to step down.

He admits interest in his work is further validation for his work in North London and appreciates the club and his reputation continue to grow.

That is just another reason why this match could be the most compelling of the week.

History

Only twice before have these two clubs met in a competitive fixture.

That was in the 1982 European Cup Winners Cup semi-final.

A late Graham Roberts goal earned Spurs a 1-1 draw in the first leg at White Hart Lane on a night in which Barcelona were strongly criticised by the English media.

Barca won the second leg at the Nou Camp courtesy of an Allan Simonsen goal to progress to the final (2-1 on aggregate) which, by chance, was also played at the Nou Camp and saw them defeat Standard Liege 2-1.

Betting Tip

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Tottenham Hotspur vs Barcelona Total Goal 2-3 @ 2.09
October 4, 03:00 (GMT+8)

Despite a poor week by their standards, Champions League 2018 betting odds favour Barcelona.

1X2 Barcelona @ 2.06shows that with Spurs priced @ 3.40 and the draw @ 3.45.

If you fancy Spurs to lead at the break, there’s a tempting First Half 1X2 Spurs @ 4.10 and an appealing First Half 1X2 Barcelona @ 2.63. The First Half 1X2 draw is a safer option @ 2.11

Asian Handicap -0.75 Barcelona @ 2.38 contrasts with Asian Handicap Spurs + 0.25 @ 2.12.

A SHORT EXPLANATION ON HOW OUR (??) BETS ARE WORTH:
?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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Pochettino relishing Barca test

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is desperate to beat Barcelona at Wembley on Wednesday as he is a fan of Espanyol.

Espanyol are Barcelona's city rivals although they are a much smaller club than Spurs' Champions League opponents.

Pochettino's side are in need of three points against Barca after losing their opening group match 2-1 to Inter Milan last month.

"[Facing Barca] motivates me, being an Espanyol fan and living for so many years in Barcelona," said the former Southampton coach.

"It is more than understood [that I will never take over] … My path and that of Barcelona are different, opposite directions. Coaching there would be impossible.

"Winning a game is always nice and when you win against Barcelona, even more so, because that would mean something important for us.

"For me, (Lionel) Messi is still the number one (player in the world) and will be until he retires."

Dele Alli will miss the game because of a hamstring injury while Pochettino has also revealed that he will check on the fitness of Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele after they picked up muscular injuries on Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

Spurs, 50/1 to win the Champions League and 8/13 to finish in the top four of the Premier League this season, are 13/5 to beat Barcelona on Wednesday.

Alli to miss Barca visit

Tottenham will be without Dele Alli for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Barcelona because of a hamstring injury.

The 22-year-old midfielder has been struggling with his hamstring over the past month and it forced him to withdraw from the England squad in the last international break.

Alli returned in last weekend's win at Brighton and played in the Carabao Cup victory against Watford in midweek, but then missed Saturday's 2-0 win at Huddersfield.

And he will now miss Spurs' Champions League clash against Barca at Wembley on Wednesday as the Londoners bid to pick up a result having lost their opening Group B game at Inter Milan a fortnight ago.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino also revealed that he will check on the fitness of Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele after they picked up muscular injuries on Saturday.

He said: "In the Premier League it is very tough and physical. We had to make a few changes during the Huddersfield game but football is about the squad.

"We need to make sure every player feels important."

Spurs were given a boost when Harry Winks and Victor Wanyama came on at half-time against the Terriers and will be vying to feature against Barcelona.

Spurs are 5/2 to win the clash, while Barca are available at 19/20 to make it two wins in two European games and the draw is priced at 14/5.

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