Lionel Messi rescued Barcelona when he struck twice to secure a 3-2 comeback win at home to Spartak Moscow in their opening Champions League Group G game.
Tito Vilanova’s first match in charge of Barca in the competition saw his team test his nerves as they fell behind in the 58th minute to visitors Spartak before a late rally got the Catalans out of trouble.
Two late goals by Camp Nou talisman Messi were enough to see the former European champions make a winning start.
Barcelona maintained their brilliant home record in the group stages of the Champions League, but they were given a real scare by the visitors from Russia who are now managed by former Valencia boss Unai Emery.
The Spaniard saw his side take the lead with a goal from Romulo with nearly an hour played, after a 29th minute Dani Alves own goal cancelled out an opening strike for the hosts from Cristian Tello.
Tello had been preferred to the likes of David Villa and Alexis Sanchez in attack and the young Spanish forward was a key man on the night, opening the scoring with a neat finish before setting up the first of Messi’s important two second half goals.
Sanchez and Villa both came off the bench as Vilanova played all his cards and the former of that duo also played a critical role, setting up Messi’s winner with a great cross as the Argentine headed Barcelona out of trouble in the 80th minute.
The first half was a different story and it had been a decent start to the match for Spartak as Irishman Aiden McGeady made early waves down the right, but he was unable to force a clear chance on goal.
The night ended early for one of Barcelona's key men as Gerard Pique limped off and was replaced by Alex Song in the opening exchanges. Pique hurt himself shooting at goal from a Xavi corner and the central defender appeared to have tweaked his right ankle, which will be a concern for Vilanova given that Eric Abidal is still far from fitness and Carles Puyol is out for at least the next month.
Barcelona started this competition dreaming of another final at Wembley where they have become European champions on two previous occasions, in 1992 and 2011, but they will have to play much better than this to make their way to London in 2013.
After Pique had gone off, Tello lifted the mood with a good finish, curling a right foot strike round Spartak goalkeeper Andriy Dykan as he cut in from the left in the 14th minute.
Barcelona’s lead did not last long as Dani Alves put the ball past Victor Valdes from an Emmanuel Emenike cross, when there seemed to be plenty of time to clear.
A great save by Dykan from a Cesc Fabregas header in the 36th minute kept the visitors in it as they went in level for the half-time break.
As the first half came to an end Emery would have been fairly pleased that his Spartak side were holding the Catalans and if Barcelona were marginally the better team in the opening 45 minutes it was Spartak who took the initiative at the start of the second period.
Barcelona were unable to control the midfield as they would have hoped and Vilanova will have headaches about the goals they conceded, especially as Spartak broke so easily to go ahead with Romulo’s well-taken goal.
But the Brazilian goal scorer was to end up on the losing side as his fellow South American Messi had the final words to save Vilanova’s blushes.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Lionel Messi – Barcelona: The Argentine scored two goals as his class again lifted the Catalans to victory.
Barcelona: Valdes 6, Alves 5, Pique 6, Mascherano 6, Adriano 6, Fabregas 6, Xavi 7, Busquets 6, Messi 8, Pedro 7, Tello 8. SUBS: Song 6, Villa 6, Alexis Sanchez 7.
MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS
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