Oh Mammy Daddy, Here we go!
As they used to say in Pipkins, its Time!.
Time for the team known for such slick swashbucking silky smooth soccer..the super Celtic versus the Boot it and Hoof it mob Catalan FC ( You might need to do some work on your Research techniques – Ed) in the UEFA Champions League.
Get your Sky Sports on folks ( STV/ITV in Scotland are showing fecking Man Utd!) for its Barcelona vs Celtic and its in the grand old Camp Nou. Some of us are old enough to remember big John Hartson standing 47 yards offside to get us a draw there and of course David Marshall having the game of his life once upon a time. Whisper it but there are slivers of hopes of a draw tonight.
Its quite incredible the current confidence in Celtic within both the fans and the club personnel. Its not so long ago the fans faces were tripping them at a certain Kilmarnock game. We can remember the anger watching the players trudging off at half time to hear Neil Lennon’s half time talk. Cue 45 minutes that literally changed the world. Lennon and Tony Tony Stokes put down a marker that day and the Club has progressed rapidly from it ever since. Europa League respect garnered, the League easily won, Champions League qualification complete, home draw to Champions League regulars Benfica, and then that brilliant away win in Russia.
Even though its Barcelona we face tonight its no wonder we have a semblance of confidence of going to Spain and getting a decent result.
Its all down to one man of course. Neil Lennon.
Where many would crumble, he has stood tall. He has carried the pressure of Celtic upon his shoulders and literally came through the storm to a golden sky. Lennon, who would be first to insist on praise for all his backroom staff including his scouts, has built a young, skilful and confident side who back their Manager through thick and thin. The current Celtic squads strength in depth continues to increase and with each transfer window, Lennon has brought in players who both add quality and also motivate others to continue on raising their game. As his Celtic side step onto the park tonight, the modest Lennon can afford himself at least one self-congratulatory smile and say “Yeah, Im doing okay”.
As for the game itself, well, does it matter?
The key games to any Group Progress will be the last two against Benfica away and Spartak at home and the Barca games are literally a bonus to all concerned. Lionel Messi continues to astound, thats 21 hat-tricks for Barcelona following another 3 goals at the weekend, and Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas and Pedro will all be confident in facing Celtic, especially on home turf. The Celtic midfielders will be sorely tested and we could see Brown, Ledley, Wanyama, Forrest, Commons, Kayal and Mulgrew all getting game time in the middle of the park in order to combat Barcelona’s amazing ball moving high-tempo approach.
While we all appreciate Messi’s wonder and Xavi and Iniestas vision, let’s not forget that Barcelona do have a weakness. The have no defenders. They’ve been shipping goals like an El Sievo. 4 conceded last weekend against Deportivo, granted some were self inflicted, suggest that the Catalan Giants are vulnerable. Celtic have to hope that Hooper and Samaras are on the top of their form tonight. A fully fit Sammi running in full flight at the makeshift central pairing of former Arsenal man Alex Song and former Liverpool man Marachina Cherry could see a surprise panic and chances made. We know that these chance will be few and far between and we just have to hope that luck is with us.
The Celtic line up will probably be similar to the Spartak game. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it and all that. Kelvin Timber Wilson should return to the back alongside Parkhead’s top Gymnast Efe Ambrose, we assume by now he has found a passport! Forster in goal will need a Marshallesque performance behind these two and hopefully he can block any chance of a rout. Izzy on the left has shown good form in the last few games ( yes he has Mr Davie Provan!) and could contribute some fine crosses on the counter and it will be between reborn Swedish hitman Mikel Lustig and Adam Matthews for the right back place.
In the middle its going be a long one and if you’re a betting man, the wise money is on Big Vic not making it the full 90 mins. With Wanyama’s enthusiasm, commitment and natural physical game, we have to hope the referee allows him some leeway or the Kenyan Fenian could be in the book early and either hooked or even worse sent off before the game is over. Joe Ledley is raring to go and will hope the hopalong hipalong dynamo that is Scott Brown can make it alongside. Skooshs drive could be vital tonight especially given the expected run around given by one of the greatest passing teams in history. James Forrest should see another subs appearance and Kris Commons would hope to start but as said before, this really will be a night for utilising all the substitutes.
The responsibility up front should fall to Sammi and Hooper. Recent arrival Miku has the experience of beating Barcelona and will possibly see some game time before the game is up. Tony Watt also travels while Lassad misses out. If the former Airdrie boy gets on the park then we are sure Jim Traynor will be over the moon for him.
Tactics wise, well its do or die. This young Celtic side cant defend against such forward momentum for 90 mins and Barcelona will score. Best chance for this Celtic side will be to keep it narrow in defence and go wide on quick counter-attacks. Lennon will try and encourage his wing backs up the park to dare to try and pressure Barcelona into a panic with balls across the box towards their makeshift defence. We will have to take any opportunity presented to us, especially at set pieces where we have a clear height advantage and hopefully Izzy, Mulgrew and Commons can provide decent delivery.
As for the score, well the heart says a draw but the head says a Barca win. The most important thing is that this team, players and management, continues to learn, even in defeat. If we compete well and don’t lose heavily then it isn’t the end of the world, especially with a return at the Fortress in a few weeks. With Sammi’s counter attacking style and Hooper on top form, lets hope we can at least celebrate a goal or two in the old Camp Nou.
Considering we were doubting we could even score one goal at Killie not so long ago, it really is incredible just to be here.
Bravo Neil Lennon, bravo. Enjoy your night, you have earned it.
Etims Prediction : Barcelona 3 : 2 Celtic