On hearing the results from England’s vaulted competitors in the Champions League last night, against teams ten points off the pace in the Netherlands and seven adrift in Germany, my first thought was, I wonder how they’d get on against Barcelona? This is a guide to the magnitude of the challenge facing our manager and players this evening.
You can forget notions of stoical performances two weeks ago, that game counts for nothing, which we will find out within the opening minutes. If Celtic are going to earn anything substantial from their group-stage games against Barcelona, they will need to open better, retain possession higher up the field, and maintain energy and concentration levels until the final whistle.
Barca have had an incredible start to the season, winning nine and drawing one of their 10 domestic league games, while winning all three in the Champions League, but each well-oiled machine is susceptible to having a spanner thrown in.
Nine years ago the same team arrived at Celtic Park on the back of a nine game winning run, the best in their history at the time. The trip to Glasgow didn’t work out so well for them as Celtic punched a hole in their defences and used what, at the time, I assumed was voodoo to prevent the visitors from scoring. They travelled home blaming hex, bad finishing and the foreign conditions for their defeat, but the truth is we spooked some of the most experienced players in the game.
This is not a team of diminutive super-humans. They are enormously skilful and effective, clearly the best team in the world today, but they are vulnerable at the back, as Celtic proved two weeks ago, and struggle to vary the formula, if required, up front.
Celtic need to concentrate on winning possession on the wings inside the opposition half. Do this regularly enough and opportunities to fire high-balls into the box, directly or from free kicks, will follow. Neil Lennon will decide if this is a game for Kris Commons but even if it’s not, it is a game for a Commons-style intelligent use of body and ball.
If voodoo is your thing, knock yourself out. The rest of you wear your lucky socks/shirt/shoes/Hector mask and arrive ready to participate. Fortune favours the Celtic.
I attended the 125th Anniversary celebrations at St Mary’s and later the Kerrydale Suite last night. I’m not sure what I expected beforehand but it was not the funny, touching and unmistakably-Celtic occasion we experienced. Well done to the magnificent Celtic Graves Society for getting the tone absolutely right, and to Celtic for bringing the event together. If Messi and Co were in attendance they would be reluctant to leave the dressing room tonight. The Barcelona directors who were there will now where to aim for with their club.