Barcelona v Celtic: Kick off time, TV, injuries, key players
A TRIP to Barcelona’s Nou Camp would seem like nothing more than good experience for any Scottish team: soak up the atmosphere, learn a few tricks from the latest Balon d’Or winner, come home with a mild sun tan. That would surely be as much as they could hope for.
True, that may well prove to be the case on Tuesday evening when Celtic take on the Catalan giants, but there are a couple of reasons for optimism for those in green and white.
Firstly, current form. Barcelona may sit top of La Liga with a near perfect record, but they lost four goals in their 5-4 victory in La Coruna on Saturday night. Celtic, on the other hand, scored five to no reply in Paisley. Now you could argue that St Mirren do not pose quite as stern a challenge as Deportivo, but the fact remains that Barcelona’s defence is far from impenetrable, especially now that it has been hampered by injuries (more below).
Secondly, the pressure is off Celtic. After their solid start to the group stage, with a draw against Benfica and that superb win away to Spartak Moscow, Neil Lennon’s men have already met their initial expectations. Despite what they might say in public, anything they manage to glean from the Barca double-header will be regarded as a bonus point. Barcelona will be looking to wrap up qualification to the knockout phase, but they may just take their foot off the gas slightly, knowing they have six points already in the tank.
In truth, though, the odds are stacked against Celtic, and their only hope of achieving any kind of result may lie in using their height advantage at set-pieces - and praying that Lionel Messi fails to adds to his tally of 71 goals for the calendar year (from 54 games, remarkably).
DATE: Tuesday, October 23
KICK-OFF: 7.45pm (GMT)
VENUE: Nou Camp, Barcelona
TV CHANNEL: Sky Sports 2
Celtic have been handed a timely boost with the news that James Forrest and Kris Commons, who both missed the St Mirren match, are fit. Parkhead skipper Scott Brown is also ready for the match after a painkilling injection for his ongoing hip injury. Georgios Samaras, who was also rested at the weekend, is likely to feature. Centre-half Kelvin Wilson is a doubt after complaining about his calf in the Paisley match, while fringe players Dylan McGeouch and Lassad Nouioui are ruled out.
It is in defence where Barcelona are struggling for cover. Influential captain Carles Puyol is out after dislocating his elbow in the Benfica match, while his usual partner in central defence, Gerard Pique, is struggling to recover from a foot injury. Dani Alves, who seems to spend as much time scampering up the wing as he does at full-back, is also injured, and Sergio Busquets, one of the few Barca midfielders whose role involves tracking back, is suspended for both Celtic matches, pending an appeal to Uefa, following his red card against Benfica. As a result, defensive midfielders Javier Mascherano and Alex Song are likely to pair up in defence.
In the Uefa Cup in 2003-4, Celtic beat Barcelona 1-0 on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals, with the single goal coming in the Parkhead tie. The Scottish champions have recent experience of facing Barcelona in the Champions League. In 2004/5 Celtic held the Catalan giants to a 1-1 draw away but lost 3-1 at home in the group stage, while in 2007/8 they lost 4-2 on aggregate in the first knockout round.
1/22 Barcelona win
25/1 Celtic win
For Celtic nothing less than a complete team performance will be good enough. The backline in particular will need to be razor sharp if they are to frustrate Barcelona’s fluid, interchangable style, and the in-form Victor Wanyama along with Scott Brown will be required to protect the defenders wherever possible. Gary Hooper proved his prowess on the European stage in Moscow, although he is likely to see much less of the ball than he is used to in the Nou Camp.
As everyone knows, Barcelona’s attacking line is something to behold when in full flow. With Xavi and Andres Iniesta pulling the strings, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas making intelligent runs and Messi invariably on hand to place the ball precisely beyond the fingertips of a despairing goalkeeper, it will be nigh impossible for Lennon to single any one man out for special attention. As the Celtic boss admitted: “We know we can’t switch off for a second, we know they are brilliant going forward.”
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