Celtic 1 - 3 Barcelona: World-class Barca just too good

The half-time statistics, more than the full-time score, may be what Brendan Rodgers takes home from this International Champions Cup encounter in Dublin.

Barcelonas Arda Turan scores the opening goal at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin last night. Picture: Paul Faith/Getty Images
Barcelonas Arda Turan scores the opening goal at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin last night. Picture: Paul Faith/Getty Images

Despite being 3-2 ahead in the shots-on-target column, Celtic were 3-1 down in the goals column.

Go figure.

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It’s the kind of statistic that make many football fans shrug, but one that will make Rodgers shiver.

This will probably not turn out to be his first-choice back four as the season progresses, with Saidy Janko and Emilio Izaguirre the full backs and Efe Ambrose and Eoghan O’Connell in the centre, but it may be what he sends on to the field against Astana in Wednesday night’s Champions League second-leg tie.

Of course, the Kazakhs won’t have Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez to call upon, but when it comes to defensive howlers Efe Ambrose and Craig Gordon are equal-opportunity offenders.

There were some good touches in the first 45 minutes, with Patrick Roberts showing the value of all those hours spent watching Messi clips on YouTube, while Leigh Griffiths did what Leigh Griffiths does best; score.

The ten changes that arrived around the hour mark made it hard to assess things further, but Rodgers will have seen enough to set up a new WhatsApp group for transfer demands with Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond.

Although this was Barcelona’s first pre-season game, they provided precisely the test you’d expect from any Barcelona team.

They landed in Dublin airport with little excess world-class baggage; the likes of Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Claudio Bravo and Jordi Alba not training until tomorrow, while Neymar is preparing for the Olympics in Brazil.

Still, there was more than a sprinkling of quality here with Messi, Suarez and Arda Turan bringing enough star power to help fill more than 47,000 seats.

Rodgers made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Astana last week, with Janko, Izaguirre, Nir Bitton and James Forrest starting.

The second leg in Celtic Park is more valuable than any friendly encounter, but Rodgers’ may have gleamed some priceless lessons from this 90 minutes.

O’Connell and Ambrose started again in the centre of defence, and simply put – the Celtic manager cannot rely on the Nigerian, who scored a first-half own-goal and was nutmegged for Barcelona’s third ten minutes later.

Craig Gordon, once more, failed to dominate his area, and one wonders what communication there is between the pair. It’s a serious area of concern for Rodgers, who had to travel to Dublin without Kolo Toure, Erik Sviatchenko, Mikael Lustig, Jozo Simunovic and Dedryk Boyata.

Things had looked good for Celtic, for the opening few minutes.

They pushed up from kick-off and almost opened the scoring after just 13 seconds, when Patrick Roberts capitalised on a Jeremy Mathieu slip, cut inside – Messi-style – only to send his curling effort inches wide of Jordi Masip’s goal.

The 20-year-old, on loan from Manchester City, repeated the effort on seven minutes, eager to catch the eyes of his blonde idol in opposition colours.

Celtic had the bulk of the early chances, but when the opening goal came it was from the Catalans.

Vidal chased a ball lofted over the flat Celtic backline, nutmegged Forrest, and cut back for Turan 
who, under little pressure, fired home powerfully from the edge of the box.

Roberts continued to get the fans on their feet, delivering some of the slalom runs many would have come to see Messi perform, but when Celtic scored the assist came from a Barcelona defender.

An horrendous first touch by Jose Martinez – who doesn’t merit a place on Barcelona’s wikipedia squad list and showed why – inside his penalty area handed Griffiths a tap in from five yards out.

But Celtic’s defence weren’t about to be outdone, and Ambrose and Gordon conspired to concede a howler, with the centre half stretching to intercept a harmless cross, before sending it beyond his haplessgoalkeeper.

Barcelona added a third before the break as Celtic’s defence collapsed again, with Suarez nipping in behind easily, nutmegging Ambrose, before squaring to Munir who was all alone to tap home.

Both sides swapped their entire starting eleven as the second half passed, with Kristoffer Ajer getting more game time in central defence for Celtic, but half chances from Luis Suarez, Nadir Ciftci and Moussa Dembele aside, there was little to email home about.