Lionel Messi Will Lead Barcelona Past Spartak Moscow to Advance in UCL
Lionel Messi knows the stakes are high. If Barcelona defeats Spartak Moscow, Barca will earn a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds. Any other result and there's a chance they enter their final Group G match without that guarantee.
Luckily, Messi knows when to rise to the occasion. In the first match between the two sides, Spartak led with 20 minutes to go before the dynamic forward completely took control of the match and almost single-handedly led Barcelona to a victory.
Looking back on it now, after the Blaugrana were shocked by an upstart Celtic squad a couple weeks ago, that was a critical comeback. Without it, the group table would look a lot different and Barca would have even more on the line for Tuesday's clash.
It's actually quite amazing that on a squad with so many superstars capable of putting the team on their back, Messi usually takes control when it matters most. And he finds ways to make plays no matter what opponents do to stop him.
Spartak found that out the hard way last time. They were able to contain him for a vast majority of the match, but he was unstoppable for nine minutes and that's all it took for zero points to become three.
Messi will be the center of attention once again in the rematch. It would be a surprise if Barca doesn't come out with an ultra-aggressive game plan. They must attempt to ease some tensions by controlling the possession and creating early scoring chances.
That didn't happen nearly enough against Celtic during the first 15 minutes and when a club like Barcelona doesn't put an underdog behind the eight ball early, they start to gain confidence. Celtic turned that early confidence into a victory.
What will be the match result?
The Blaugrana do catch a break because Spartak is dealing with a plethora of injuries right now, which limits the amount of options for manager Unai Emery. Building a makeshift lineup to beat Barca is nearly an impossible task.
Expect Messi to test the backups early, especially goalkeeper Sergei Chernyshuk, who's likely to take over after a rare run of injuries in net for Spartak. It's the one position where clubs usually feel pretty safe, but that hasn't been the case for the Russian side.
Knowing the keeper lacks experience in these type of high-profile matches, look for Messi to attempt shots from every angle trying to catch him off guard. Given his knack for scoring highlight-reel goals, one of those attempts will probably find the net.
All told, Barcelona isn't going to take any chances. Anything less than a dominating performance from Messi and his teammates would be a surprise en route to a two-goal victory.
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