In eight days Brendan Rodgers takes Celtic into the Camp Nou to face Barcelona. While Barca are not current European champions, there is little doubt they are the best team in the world at the moment, and no doubt whatsoever that they are the greatest team of the era. A gargantuan task lies ahead. This week we’ll have a look at that challenge and how we might best prepare.
While Brendan has carried all before him in domestic football, and at home in Europe, his Celtic lost in Gibraltar and Israel, while taking a creditable draw in Kazakhstan. Playing in the Camp Nou is another world entirely, however.
Neil Lennon did very well top inhibit Barcelona on three of the four occasions he managed Celtic against them (the fourth was a dead rubber for Celtic, who conceded six, but was a must-win for Barcelona).
On the three meaningful Celtic games, we won once, lost once with 10 men, and conceded a last minute winner in the Camp Nou. A remarkable return against one of the best teams in the history of the game.
Neil’s team defended his 18-yard-box with remarkable endeavour, even with Efe Ambrose and Kelvin Wilson in central defence – and Adam Matthews at left back. Not exactly a legendary defensive line-up, but what Neil proved more than anything, football is about the system, not the individuals.
In some respects, defending against Barcelona will be more straightforward than against St Johnstone. There will be no reluctance to clear the ball long, instead of trying to thread a pass in the middle of our own half. There should be no complacency, and at all times defenders should be aware that their defensive partners are not far away.
In defending the 18-yard-box, Neil’s Celtic conceded space near the corner flag, an area we would normally contest, as this is where dangerous cross balls can emanate from. What that Celtic team had was no only a comfortable height advantage over Barcelona, but this advantage combined with a natural ability in the air, which say Celtic score regularly and defend successfully.
I expect Mikael Lustig, Erik Sviatchenko and Kolo Toure all to play along the back line (will be amazed and concerned if Mikael plays a conventional right back role), with Nir Bitton dropping deep from midfield. So we will not be short of height, but gelling them into a cohesive unit will be one of Brendan’s major tasks when players return from international duty.