Celtic tasted their first victory in 21 Champions League away matches with a stunning 3-2 victory against Spartak Moscow two weeks ago, but now face perhaps the ultimate test with a trip to the Camp Nou. Barcelona are unbeaten in 17 home European matches and anything that the Scottish champions can pick up will surely be considered a bonus.
“We’re in confident form,” said Celtic boss Neil Lennon. “We got a great result in the last Champions League game against Spartak so we have nothing to lose. It’s very exciting times, not only for the players but the club and the supporters as well.”
Celtic have now won six consecutive games in all competitions, since they opened their Champions League campaign with a goalless draw at home to Benfica, and Lennon added that he hopes to pose their opponents some serious questions on Tuesday.
“But we’re not here for a holiday. We’re not here for the tourist attractions. We’re here to play a game of football. And we’re going to be in for a tough 90 minutes, but we want Barcelona to have a tough 90 minutes as well.”
Despite Barcelona’s daunting reputation, Lennon may well be entitled to think that his side can at least make the match a competitive one. While Barcelona sit top of La Liga and have won two out of two in the Champions League, they have not overwhelmed opponents in a way that became common place in the past four seasons.
Tito Vilanova has taken the reins from Pep Guardiola and his side have perhaps sacrificed an element of control for greater attacking potential. This slight shift was evident on Saturday as Barcelona allowed a 3-0 lead against Deportivo La Coruna to turn into a nail-biting 5-4 victory.
Of course it can also not be discounted that Barcelona have been ravaged by defensive injuries. Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol and Dani Alves are all still out and Javier Mascherano and Alex Song will likely continue to form a suspect-looking partnership at the center of defense. Vilanova’s selection is further complicated for the encounter with Celtic with Sergio Busquets ruled out due to his sending off in a 2-0 win at Benfica in their last European outing.
It is a very different story on the injury front for Celtic. Scott Brown, Kris Commons, Georgios Samaras and James Forrest all missed Celtic’s 5-0 victory at St. Mirren on Saturday, but should be fit to take on Barcelona.
D: Montoya, Song, Mascherano, Alba
M: Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta
F: Sanchez, Messi, Pedro
D: Lustig, Wilson, Mulgrew, Izaguirre
M: Wanyama, Brown
Commons, Ledley, Samaras
Prediction: The temptation against Barcelona has often been to hang on for grim life in the face of a relentless swarm of possession. However, particularly with Barcelona’s injury problems, Celtic must try to do more than just sit back. Against a side likely to feature two midfielders in the center of defense—although Mascherano has become a capable defender—and be without a defensive-minded midfielder, Celtic could cause Barcelona more than a few problems.
But the sheer quality of Barcelona’s offense, featuring Lionel Messi at the top of his game, should see the home side prevail in what could well be an action-packed encounter.
Barcelona 3-1 Celtic
Where to watch: The Champions League Group G matchup kicks-off from the Camp Nou at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Deportes and MSG Plus, with a live stream available via FoxSoccer2Go.