Celtic v Barcelona Preview
Celtic Park, Glasgow
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Celtic quite nearly snatched a point at Camp Nou two weeks ago and would no doubt be happy with any sort of result on Wednesday against a Barcelona side that could win Group G with a victory at Parkhead and favourable result between Spartak Moscow and Benfica.
BREAKDOWN: Celtic took an unlikely lead at Camp Nou on October 23 when Georgios Samaras put the Scottish champions in front after just 18 minutes, but goals from Andres Iniesta in first-half stoppage time and Jordi Alba deep into second-half stoppage time produced a narrow win for Barcelona.
Hoops manager Neil Lennon, who had his team absorb enormous amounts of pressure in the Catalan capital a fortnight ago, and although Celtic came away with nothing from the match he’ll be setting them up similarly on Wednesday.
“We have no reason to expect to have possession,” he told reporters during his pre-match press conference. “We accept we’ll concede ground and the ball at times because [Barcelona] are the best in the world at keeping possession. If we get something out of the game it’ll give us a strong foothold in the group,” he added.
Celtic are presently second to Barcelona in Group G with four points from three rounds—a point better than Spartak Moscow, who will be away to winless Benfica on Wednesday.
Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova, meanwhile, would prefer to seal his side’s progression to the Round of 16 as soon as possible and has said Wednesday’s encounter with Celtic represents the most important match in the bracket thus far.
“This our most important game in the group stage because we need to win it to qualify, regardless of the result in the other match,” he said. “We’ll be able to rest players once we have qualified.”
Vilanova also responded to a question about the vaunted Parkhead atmosphere, saying, “I’ve never been here before but I’ve heard about the stadium and the atmosphere.”
ESSENTIALS: Celtic will be without Emilio Izaguirre for six weeks after the Mexico international suffered a hamstring injury against Dundee United on Saturday. Striker Gary Hooper is doubtful and both James Forrest and Lassad Nouioui have been ruled out. Samaras has a niggling ankle problem but should be able to play from the start.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique could make a comeback from a foot injury that has dragged on much longer than expected, although Vilanova has conceded playing the Spanish international would represent a “risk.” Left-back Adriano is out injured, as are Carlos Puyol, Thiago Alacantara, Isaac Cuenca, Marc Muniesa and Eric Abidal.
KEY BATTLE: On the occasion Celtic manage to enjoy a bit of the ball, look for them to play it to Kris Commons on the right wing. Celtic will try to play as wide as possible when they have the ball, although in Jordi Alba the Hoops winger will be going up against one of the best left-backs in world football—a player who also happens to be an important cog in the Blaugrana attack.
FORMATIONS: Lennon will send out a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Gary Hooper and Samaras up top and Commons and Joe Ledley on the wings. Vilanova will deploy his usual, flexible 4-3-3 formation with Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa across the top.
BETLINE: Celtic 9/1; Draw 9/2; Barcelona 3/10. Messi has two goals and two assists from three Champions League matches.