Alan Pattullo: Celtic spirit key against Barcelona

Neil Lennon’s response to reporters after it was put to him that, for the first time in more than five years, Barcelona had recently had less possession than their opponents, Rayo Vallecano, was to remind them of the score.
Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA

“Aye, but they still won 4-0”, he noted, killing dead the implication that Barcelona are perhaps some kind of lesser force under new manager Gerardo Martino. Lennon could also now add that Barcelona have just broken a club record for consecutive wins at the start of a league season following Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Almeria. The previous best start was six, achieved by five other managers, including Pep Guardiola and Martino’s immediate predecessor, Tito Vilanova.

In any case, Lennon already knows that you don’t have to rely on the majority of possession to win a football match. He doesn’t need to attend elite coaching forums with high-powered friends such as Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger to learn this truth.

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Celtic managed it last November, when, with only 34 per cent of the possession, they defeated Barcelona 2-1 on a night of nights in the east end of Glasgow. Indeed, they even had the comfort of a two-goal lead from the 84th minute until the dying seconds, when Lionel Messi, who will be missing tomorrow night when the teams meet again because of injury, pulled one back.

Statistics and number crunching don’t tend to mean much at Parkhead on European nights, when the spirit is all.