Craig Fowler gives his take on a torrid night for Celtic in the Champions League
A hat-trick from Lionel Messi, along with goals from Andres Iniesta, Neymar and a double from Luis Suarez handed Celtic their heaviest ever European defeat.
Here’s what we learned...
Celtic’s draw may be even tougher than we thought
We all knew this group was going to be difficult, borderline impossible, but we probably didn’t appreciate how difficult until this match. Barcelona were on another level, one so high it seemed like they were playing another sport, one Celtic had only learned the rules of during a 15-minute Skype demonstration, where the Wi-Fi kept cutting out, earlier in the day. And while it may be the hardest game the Scottish champions will face, it’s not going to get much easier from here. Manchester City have continually underwhelmed in the Champions League, but seeing as they have Pep Guardiola in their corner, the godfather of the system Barca used so devastatingly tonight, this may not be the only hammering Brendan Rodgers and his troops suffer. They can only hope Borussia Monchengladbach are in for similar tortures, thereby creating a competitive battle for third place.
Celtic’s defence was in awe of Barcelona
The Andrés Iniesta goal was a microcosm for the whole match. It was an outrageous piece of skill at the end of a flowing move. The manner in which Iniesta dispatched the ball into the roof of the net was just awesome. He exuded such a calm exterior as he shaped his body to execute the perfect technique required, allowing the ball to explode off his foot and thunder into the back of the net. But there is no denying how easy Celtic made it for him. There was no pressure on the ball, the cross was allowed to come in with ease, and Iniesta was completely alone in the penalty area.
Brendan Rodgers said before the game that Celtic were not just there for a holiday. Unfortunately his side never backed up these words with the required determination on the park. Quite simply, they were in awe of their hosts. So many times when play moved into the penalty area, players in green and white hoops would stand and marvel at the play, which invariably allowed one of Barcelona’s stars a free run to score. Even the second goal, as excellent as it was, saw Messi run from 30 yards to inside the six yard box without anyone even putting an arm on him. These guys do things like Iniesta did in training every day, and that’s what Celtic made it like for them, a training session.
Brendan Rodgers’ formation gamble backfired spectacularly
Moving away from the 4-2-3-1 that’s served them well in recent weeks, Celtic went with 5-4-1 system that deployed a very narrow midfield four that looked to shut off Barcelona’s passing lanes in the centre. It sounds reasonable in theory, but in practice it fell apart. The two defensive banks were far too static. Barcelona thrive between the lines and against Celtic they were given free reign to do so. So many times Messi would come deep, in front of the two banks, make one pass and charge beyond the Celtic midfield, who never looked to track the run. It’s always difficult for a back-line to keep tabs on a runner from deep, and with eight Barcelona players capable of crashing into the penalty area when they see an opening, this was never going to work.
Another crime on Celtic’s charge sheet was the lack of pressing on the ball. They never got into the faces of their hosts. It was all too passive. Barca were allowed time and space anywhere outside 30 yards from goal to ping a ball into the danger area, at which point they’d usually find a free runner going in behind a dispirited back-line.
There’s no shame in losing to Barcelona. There is in granting them the biggest European Cup/Champions League win in their illustrious history.
Stuttering penalty run-ups are the work of the devil
This fad really needs to stop. There was a time when a stutter-step in the penalty run-up would draw the goalkeeper into showing his hand too early, allowing the attacker to slot it in the other corner. Nowadays, any goalkeeper worth his salt will be ready for it to happen. As soon as an attacker does this and the goalkeeper doesn’t move, the odds swing rapidly in the custodian’s direction, because the taker has reduced his own momentum. Moussa Dembele’s effort was a classic example. Once he stopped he basically gave Ter Stegen a 50/50 chance of saving it, because he couldn’t generate enough power to fire it past the goalkeeper if he picked the correct side, which Ter Stegen did.
This was not the game for Cristian Gamboa
What a way to make your debut. The former West Brom right back had a horrid night as many of Barcelona’s seven goals came down his side. Then again, so many other players in green and white enduring a torturous evening. He was advertised as an attacking full-back who struggled with his defensive positioning when he arrived at the club, and that was just in a British football context. Against Barcelona, what chance did he have?
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