Jan Vertonghen has said it would be a boost if Barcelona rest Lionel Messi against Tottenham in the Champions League on Tuesday, but that Spurs will be facing one of the best teams in the world regardless of who is in Barca’s line-up.
Barcelona have already secured top spot in Group B, while Tottenham need to match Inter Milan’s result at home to PSV Eindhoven to qualify for the round of 16.
Spurs will likely need to be the first away side since September 2013 to win a Champions League match at Camp Nou in order to progress, and after Messi played a starring role in Barca’s 4-2 win at Wembley in October, Vertonghen said it would be a bonus if the forward were to miss this encounter.
“I wouldn’t complain then,” Vertonghen said. “But with or without Messi, we need to beat them. Even if they rest players they can put out an unbelievably strong team. We know we have to be top of our game.
“We’ve shown before we can beat the biggest teams in the world. We put in a great performance last year against Real Madrid and at that moment they were the best team in the world.
“We have to probably think that Inter Milan will beat PSV at home and we need to do the same. If they draw, we might be lucky, but we’ll look at ourselves first.”
Vertonghen missed the reverse fixture through injury but feels Tottenham can take encouragement from their fightback that night.
Having been 2-0 down inside 30 minutes, Spurs got back to within one goal at 3-2 before conceding late on as they pushed for an equaliser.
“We did very well in that game,” Vertonghen said. “They scored a goal in the first minute, which was hard to take, but after we took control we had a couple of chances and we definitely take that in our head.”
Young full-back Kyle Walker-Peters could be joining Vertonghen in the defence at the Nou Camp, in what would be just his third appearance of the season.
With Kieran Trippier already sidelined and Serge Aurier limping off at Leicester on Saturday, the 21-year-old was needed as a substitute at the King Power Stadium, and Pochettino has said he is ready to face Barcelona.
“This season’s been similar to last season really,” Walker-Peters said. “The manager’s happy for you to go to speak to him, and I’ve spoken to him this season. He’s just told me to keep working hard and, when the opportunities come, make sure I’m ready.
“If he needs me to play, I feel like all the training I’ve been doing up until now is for games like this. We don’t know about the injuries but I’ll just try my best to be ready.”
Asked whether he would relish or prefer to avoid facing Messi, Walker-Peters said: “I think it’s a bit of both. He’s a top player but you want to play against top players because it’s going to help you improve. But you have to be on your game against players of that level.
“Either way it’s going to be a tough game, whether they rest players or not. The players they rest are trying to get in the team themselves so they’re going to be on it — they’re going to be trying to win just as much as we are.”