Neymar provides grace and joy as Barca reassert authority

The ball was being swung from one side of the pitch to the other. There was latent danger in this almost mesmeric passage of play.

Barcelona's Neymar takes to the air to hurdle sliding Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Barcelona's Neymar takes to the air to hurdle sliding Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

We know that now. A colleague in the press box had just finished saying “this is when they are most dangerous”. Nothing much was happening save for Barcelona happily keeping the ball from their opponents.

Celtic had enjoyed a promising patch. In fact, more than that, they’d gone toe- to-toe with the visitors, Scott Brown almost literally so after a bone-crunching but perfectly legal challenge on Sergio Busquets.

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But then Neymar came into play once more on the left. He took a pass from Jordi Alba, stopping the ball dead with the crisp, clean touch of Jack Frost. Red sky at night, Barca delight.

The Brazilian clipped the ball over for Lionel Messi with his right foot. Where did he come from? It didn’t matter. 1-0 the Catalans, via a deft first-time half-volley. Merry Christmas Celtic. Another goal by Messi was added for good luck in the second half, via the penalty spot.

Celtic had very sportingly organised for pipers to provide the musical accompaniment as the Barcelona team bus crawled up the Celtic Way earlier in the evening.

As was pointed out on Twitter, imagine Jim McLean agreeing to such a gimmick prior to one of Dundee United’s big European nights in the 1980s. Brendan Rodgers had even complained on the eve of the match about having given Barcelona too much respect in their last meeting in September.

Maybe it was a ploy to lull the Barcelona players into a false sense of security. “Check these suckers out, giving us the full Scottish”.

But Barcelona were never going to be persuaded to take things easy. They needed to re-assert some authority in a group where they’d received a bruising from Manchester City on their last visit to these isles.

Never mind that their form in La Liga is being placed under scrutiny following last weekend’s 0-0 draw at home against Malaga, a result that leaves them trailing leaders Real Madrid by four points.

They weren’t here for an exhibition, even if it sometimes looked like it as they swung the ball this way and that. They were here to re-awaken the legend of Barcelona. Sadly for Celtic, it was a job for Messi, Suarez and 
Neymar, a trio described as “the tridente” by one Spanish journalist on the eve of the match.

They didn’t disappoint.

Neymar was a joy to watch on the left, skipping past Celtic opponents but also proving surprisingly robust in challenges. The memory of his theatrical tumble after Brown’s fly kick on this same pitch three years ago was stirred following a clash with Mikael Lustig in the same area of the park.

But he mostly moved across the turf with grace. He didn’t deserve to have objects thrown at him when taking a corner in front of Celtic’s new standing section. But he did deserve the booking for the barge on Lustig that meant few Celtic fans felt the need to applaud his talents. Instead, he was roasted by the home stands as he drew out every step of his 77th minute substitution, when being replaced by Arda Turan.

There is a suspicion he deliberately earned the yellow card to get a suspension out of the way before the last 16 stage.

Barcelona proved they could do it on a sub-zero night in the east end of Glasgow, as if there was ever any doubt. Suarez seemed to be making a point by wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Unlike his striker colleagues, he dispensed with gloves.

It meant he clasped together bare hands in anguish as Craig Gordon made one of the saves of the season so far to deny the Uruguayan late in the first half. He was shortly to feel the be-gloved hands of Emilio Izaguirre on his back as the Celtic left-back wrestled his opposite man to the ground for a penalty few could debate.

Indeed, the only slight delay as views were exchanged came when Neymar and Messi politely discussed whose turn it was to perform penalty duties. It turned out it was Messi’s, the striker grabbing his second of the night in unfussy manner. Gordon never looked like stopping his effort as Barcelona scored their ninth unanswered goal against Celtic in a matter of weeks.