Gerardo Martino is determined for Barcelona not to fall victims to underdogs Celtic for the second-straight season at Parkhead. In arguably the biggest upset of last year’s group stage, the Scottish champions upset their Spanish counterparts in Glasgow, while they also came within minutes of taking a point in Barcelona. In each contest, Celtic prospered from set-pieces. While taking nothing for granted about Celtic’s game plan, he is fully aware of where his side needs to be wary.
“You're all assuming that tomorrow's game will be similar from last year's but we don't know,” he said, according to UEFA.com. “We'll have to be careful with the long ball and be careful not to give away the ball too easily.
“We're bringing young players from the B team because we need center-backs because of injuries -- [Javier] Mascherano, [Carles] Puyol and [Jordi] Alba are injured so we need to find solutions. If we keep the ball and focus, we won't concede set pieces where they are very dangerous; they are good in the air and have a great physical presence because they are taller than our players.”
There is also a notable absentee from Barcelona’s attacking ranks, with Lionel Messi having suffered a thigh strain after scoring in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Almeria. But the Catalans now have the added threat of Neymar, who has played a significant part in his new side beginning the league season with seven successive wins. A 4-0 victory was also recorded over Ajax to begin their Champions League campaign.
While refusing to count out there chances if they lose on Tuesday, Celtic boss Neil Lennon accepts his side would face an uphill task should Milan -- 2-0 victors over Celtic on Matchday One -- beat Ajax in the night’s other Group H encounter. Lennon is seeking to repeat the formula from last season, but is under no illusions of the difficulty of the task at hand.
“We'll try to limit Barcelona to as few chances as we possibly can and capitalize on the chances we get like we did last year,” he explained. For me, Barcelona are a class above Milan -- no disrespect to Milan -- in the way they pass the ball, in the way they create chances, in the pace they have.
“They don't really have a proper center-forward as such, that's where our center-halves need to be very, very concentrated and alert all the time because they have danger coming from wider, from deep. When they get the ball in the final third, the speed of the passing is phenomenal sometimes.”
D: Lustig, Van Dijk, Ambrose, Izaguirre
M: Matthews, Commons, Brown, Mulgrew, Samaras
D: Alves, Bartra, Pique, Adriano
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Fabregas, Neymar
Prediction: Martino has said that Cesc Fabregas is no longer the automatic replacement for Lionel Messi in the “false nine” role. Both Neymar and Alexis Sanchez could take Messi’s place in the side, but given how well the Brazilian has done on the left he is likely to stick to that position. Fabregas’s ability to link the play should see him given the nod.
Celtic’s threat from set-pieces could be even more effective than it was last season. Barcelona already looked vulnerable in the air before the injury to Mascherano. As there was against Ajax and, indeed in several of their games this season, there could be some struggles for Barcelona early on, but their increased variety should eventually help secure victory against a Celtic side that was weakened over the summer.
Celtic 1-3 Barcelona
Where to watch: The Champions League Group H match will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.