Tottenham 2 Barcelona 4
If Barcelona are a team in crisis, heaven help the rest of Planet Football.
On the evidence of their latest stylish stroll around the wide open space of Wembley, tales suggesting they may be on the wane in La Liga appear ludicrously fanciful.
Tottenham spent most of the night chasing shadows as the Catalans established their customary mastery of possession and tempo of the match, though ultimately the north Londoners managed to keep the contest within the bounds of respectability with a resilient second half display.
Only when Lionel Messi rolled in his second goal of the night in injury time was the match truly put to bed.
With their season having begun so uncertainly, and with five key players out injured,probably the last team Spurs wanted to meet was the Messi-inspired Spanish champions - even if the memory of last season’s stirring group victories over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund might have inspired another night of glory.
But it never looked on the cards, especially as they made the worst possible start – going a goal down after barely 90 seconds, with that supposedly washed-up wizard Messi the inevitable architect.
The Argentinian – entrusted with the captain’s armband these days - worked a bit of space for himself in the centre circle before drilling a ball out wide to the overlapping Jordi Albi. A simple cut back had Spurs defenders floundering and Philippe Coutinho was on hand to finish the job.
And in the 28th minute, Ivan Rakitic volleyed past Hugo Lloris off a post after Coutinho had turned a failed attempt to convert a Messi pass into an athletic cut-back for the Croatian midfielder.
Messi’s pass was the first of his many superb moments, which had Wembley once again in thrall. It is a real privilege to witness his electrifying performances – a joy which transcends any club allegiance.
Barcelona love Wembley, of course. They have twice lifted Europe’s premier club competition at the stadium and thrashed Arsenal 4-2 in another group game when the Gunners were making their first forays in Europe under Arsene Wenger.
It was 25 minutes before Harry Kane troubled Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a shot – but it was from distance and barely interrupted the visitors’ near monopoly of the ball, and within three minutes it was 2-0.
The mood among home fans lifted briefly, when a fine move involving Kane, Lucas Moura and Eric Lamela had ter Stegen scrambling. But it was mostly a case of hunting the ball in vain.
Just after the break came arguably the moment of the match when Messi accelerated into the heart of a retreating defence before firing against the base of a post. And just to prove it was no fluke, he did it again four minutes later – striking the same post, following a similar run.
Kane reduced the arrears on 52 minutes, cutting inside Nelson Semedo to lash the ball into the far corner, but that only served to make Barcelona move up another gear and within three minutes, Messi converted an Alba cross after a dummy from Luis Suarez.
Lamela netted with a deflected strike after 66 minutes to re-ignite hopes and Moura was a whisker away from snatching a highly-improbable equaliser with six minutes remaining. That they came so close is testament to a really spirited response to the humbling hour that had preceded it.
Another smart Suarez dummy gave Messi all the space he needed to cap a great night for him, and the visitors. It had been quite a spectacle.
Barca ended Chelsea’s interest in the competition last season and have buried the hopes of Arsenal and Man United in recent years. Tottenham must hope they don’t go the same way, but after two defeats in their opening two group games, there is much work to be done if they are to reach the knock out stages this time around.
Line up: Lloris – Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies – Winks, Wanyama (Dier 57) – Lucas, Lamela (Llorente 79), Son (Sissoko 66) – Kane. Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Rose, Walker-Peters, Skipp.