Celtic stars can hurt us, warns Barcelona boss

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has identified three Celtic dangermen.  Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has identified three Celtic dangermen. Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images
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The inevitable focus of Luis Enrique’s media conference ahead of tonight’s Champions League Group C opener centred on whether the Barcelona coach will re-unite world football’s most fearsome attacking trio against Celtic.

But in the midst of fielding questions on Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar –who have scored a staggering 260 goals between them since Enrique took charge of the Spanish champions two years ago – he also chose to highlight three Celtic players he believes could pose a threat to his team in the Nou Camp.

Moussa Dembele’s hat-trick in Saturday’s 5-1 Old Firm romp even managed to attract some attention in this football city which is generally obsessed solely with the fortunes of Enrique’s men who slipped to a shock 2-1 home defeat by newly-promoted Alaves on the same day.

Enrique is wary not just of in-form French striker Dembele, but also picked out pacy wide men Scott Sinclair and Patrick Roberts as dangerous weapons in 
Celtic’s armoury.

“They have some talented players and there were easier teams in pot four of the draw who we could have got in our group this year,” said Enrique.

“Dembele scored his hat-trick against Rangers and in Sinclair and Roberts I believe they have high-quality attacking players who can cause us problems.”

Enrique crossed swords with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers as recently as July when Barcelona won a Dublin pre-season fixture between the clubs 3-1. But his relationship with the former Liverpool and Swansea boss stretches back further.

“I knew him from when I was in charge of Barcelona’s B team and he came over to the Mini Estadi here to watch us,” added Enrique.

“I like Brendan as a coach. He is a lover of good football, he plays an attractive style and I like coaches who are committed to attack. I also like coaches who let players have the burden and take the initiative, which Celtic do. I like Brendan’s ideas on football.

“We have watched Celtic this season and, as I said, they have players who could worry us in attack.

“During the pre-season game against us, Celtic did play with five defenders at one stage and conceded a few goals. It is a question for Brendan as to how they will play this time, but generally Celtic try to press you very high up the pitch.

“They don’t just fall back into defence, like Alaves did against us on Saturday, so we will see what they decide to do this time.

“I’m not worried about Celtic’s system, because we have sorted out most of our defensive situations so far this season. But on the other hand, I am worried because we have to work on certain things.”

A combination of injuries and international duty have so far prevented Messi, Suarez and Neymar all starting a match together for Barcelona this season. All three are expected to line up against Celtic, along with Andres Iniesta, who was only used as a substitute against Alaves.

“I hope the Alaves result has no negative impact on our squad,” said Enrique. “We always analyse the games, that is normal, and we have things to improve and work on. That happens after every defeat.

“The objective is now to win the next game. That’s all we can think about. If we can qualify and win the group, then great. But the key thing is to beat Celtic first of all.

“We will move the ball and try to overcome the high pressure and we need to be stronger in defence. We know what we have to work on to try and achieve a good result.

“Football is not an exact science. You can’t win every game but we will look to improve. We will identify problems and try to find a solution. But what we have achieved speaks for itself.

“The team deserves to have the confidence of the fans after the achievements of the last few years. The new players will get used to how we play. They will adjust but we have to help them a lot and give them the right information.”

Barcelona full-back Jordi Alba, who scored a stoppage-time winner against Celtic in the 2012 Nou Camp meeting between the clubs, anticipates a much sterner challenge than the one provided by the Scottish champions on their most recent visit here when they were crushed 6-1 in December 2013.

“We face an opponent who have improved a lot since then,” said Alba. “We have watched them a lot and you can see it. We are going to have to play well, because we want to start this competition with three points.”