CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has set his players some homework as he looks to plot a repeat of last season’s Champions League heroics against Barcelona.
After training at Lennoxtown yesterday, every member of Lennon’s first-team squad was presented with a DVD recording of the stunning 2-1 victory the Scottish champions achieved against the Catalan giants at Celtic Park last November. It was a win that paved the way for Lennon’s team to reach the last 16 of the tournament and they already look in need of a similar result when Barcelona return to Glasgow for Tuesday night’s Group H showdown if they are to retain real hope of progressing to the knockout phase again.
Lennon has asked his players to watch the full 90 minutes of last year’s Parkhead meeting between the clubs as a refresher course on just what it takes to overcome such exalted opposition.
“We are giving them the DVDs today and I want them all to watch it tonight or tomorrow night,” said Lennon ahead of today’s lunchtime fixture with Kilmarnock. “I want them to study it, then we will do all the other stuff and go over the game plan on Sunday and Monday. I don’t think it will change that much from last year to this Tuesday night. It’s not necessarily to show our players how good they were against Barcelona last season, but to show them what they have to do to get a result this time. It is also to show them that beating Barcelona can be done.
“I want them to be reminded of the concentration levels and intensity they will have to play at. I don’t want them going into the game cold. I think in the main the players will know what’s coming, but I just want them to be ready. Sometimes when you watch a game again, you get little reminders of things that you forget about – certain instances, maybe set-pieces or attacking play they had and what they did, how they shaped up.”
Lennon’s own preparations for Tuesday have not been as meticulous as he would have hoped. Scheduling has prevented him from watching Barcelona in person over the last couple of weeks and trying to identify potential areas of their game Celtic might exploit. Although today’s Premiership game at Kilmarnock kicks off at 12.45pm, even a private jet could not get Lennon to southern Spain in time for Barcelona’s La Liga meeting with Almeria, which starts at 5pm.
“I am at a slight disadvantage this year because I haven’t had the opportunity to see them live,” he said. “I’ll not get the chance now. I was desperate to go and watch them. They played Real Sociedad on Tuesday night and I thought about going and leaving the other lads in charge of our game against Morton. I wish I had now!
“We will have their game at Almeria covered and (chief scout) John Park has been to see them once or twice already. You like to see them live yourself, because there are things you miss watching them on TV. You don’t see the big picture. When you see them live, like I did last year before we played them, you see the way they set up in an attacking sense, for set pieces, what they are like when the ball’s in their own third, what their movement is like off the ball and how they counter-attack.
“But you know Barcelona aren’t going to change the way they play. We’ve had plenty of time to get our preparation right. We’ve not had much time with the players yet and I won’t talk about it with them until after the game at Kilmarnock.”
Lennon had mixed news to report on the injury front ahead of Tuesday. Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley is still struggling with the groin injury which forced him to miss the first Champions League group game against AC Milan two weeks ago. But Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal is back in training and will be available for selection. There is also a chance winger James Forrest could return against Barcelona as he recovers from the virus which saw him spend five days in hospital last week.
“James came back in for training yesterday and looks a lot better,” said Lennon. “He did a double session yesterday and he’ll do a double session today. He’ll train tomorrow on his own then join up with the squad on Sunday. If he’s pain free then he’ll go into the squad for Tuesday. That would be a huge, huge lift for us. We missed him in Milan when the game became stretched. I thought it was tailor-made for him. At this level, with his quality and pace, he makes us better.”
Lennon, meanwhile, has confirmed his interest in Icelandic international striker Kolbeinn Sigporsson of Champions League group rivals Ajax. The 23-year-old has been linked with a January transfer window move to Celtic, along with another Dutch-based forward, AZ Alkmaar’s USA international Aron Johannsson. “Sigporsson is a player we like but he is contracted to Ajax and I don’t want to talk about a player with another club,” said Lennon. “We’re looking at January to bring players in for the remainder of this season and to have them bedded in for the Champions League qualifiers next summer.
“It would be good not to have a rush job over the summer of trying to get players in early. We’ve got money to spend, but the club had to look after the future as well. If we didn’t have Champions League football we would have maybe had to sell another player. That is the difference between Europa League football and the Champions League.”