Celtic face their most difficult test of the season so far when they step out at Camp Nou in the Champions League tonight to face the almost impossible task of trying to pick up points away to Barcelona.
Usually a team will aim to learn the tactics of their opponents before a match to work out how they might set up and figure out a way to counter the oppositions’ plans, but Celtic may wonder if that is a waste of time.
Barcelona do not have a set way of playing, but instead have a squad packed full of players that are simply unleashed and given the freedom to run riot. Maybe digging out lucky pants and crossing fingers is the best Celtic can do in terms of preparation.
Even if coach Tito Vilanova did feel it necessary to give his players a strategy, simply saying “give the ball to Messi” would be sufficient. Replace Messi’s name with Xavi’s, Iniesta’s, Fabregas’s, or most of the other Catalans’, and the end result would be similar.
Barcelona’s defense is equally as competent as the men causing chaos up front, but the La Liga powerhouse has only kept two clean sheets in the Spanish league this season and are currently hindered by injuries to their back four.
Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, who, if fit, would be the likely first choice Barca defenders, are all out on the injury table, meaning the manager will have to send out a makeshift defensive line-up.
Celtic will be keen to take advantage of their Spanish opponents’ frailties at the back, which may see Tito Vilanova deploy former Premier League midfielders Alex Song and Javier Mascherano at the centre of the defense.
But Hoops manager Neil Lennon knows what Barcelona are capable of, and singled out their star man Lionel Messi as the player his team needs to contain for the duration of the game, in an obvious but sensible statement.
“He just has that burst of pace to get away from people. One minute he looks as if he’s not interested, the next thing he’ll drop a shoulder and he’s away. But my centre halves will have to be so mindful, not just of Messi, but also of players around him like Fabregas and Iniesta.
“We can talk about them all night – how we go about stopping them – but they come at you in so many different ways that it’s near enough impossible,” said the Celtic boss.
Scott Brown and James Forrest are injury worries for Celtic’s huge challenge in the Camp Nou battle.
Kris Commons and Georgios Samaras missed the weekend’s 5-0 smashing of St Mirren in the Scottish Premier League, but both players traveled to Spain, suggesting they may be in for late fitness tests in ahead of the big kick-off.
One thing’s for certain, nobody will want to miss this fixture.
La Liga News prediction: Barcelona will come out on top, but Celtic may prove to be up for a fight and get themselves a goal to make the scoreline respectable. 3-1 to the Spanish side.