Two sides with a rich history clash at one of the most glamorous palaces in all of football. Spanish powerhouse Barcelona will tangle with Scottish champions Celtic, in a Group G fixture at the majestic Nou Camp Stadium in Barcelona.
Barcelona currently sit atop of the Group G table, winning both fixtures in the competition. Celtic are two point back of Barcelona, thanks to a critical away victory over Spartak Moscow, three weeks ago.
There in no doubt Barcelona are one of, if not the favourites to win their fifth European Cup. Their champagne style and caviar finishing leaves the rest of the football world in envy. No on epitomizes Barcelona football quite like Lionel Messi. The Argentine striker is one of the best players in the world, and is the cornerstone of the Barcelona attack. Messi has 15 goals in all competitions, including 2 in the Champions League. In Barcelona’s last match against Benfica, Messi was the playmaker, setting up both goals in the Blaugarna’s win over the Portuguese side. Messi can be used in the “false nine” role, or as a pure striker.
What makes Messi more special, is the support surrounding him. The options Barcelona have up front are bountiful. David Villa, Pedro, Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello could all see time on the pitch for Barcelona. The expectation is that Pedro and Alexis will start, since Villa and Tello started on the weekend.
The catalyst in the Barcelona midfield is the unparalleled Xavi. The captain of Barcelona, there is simply no one better in the midfield than the Spanish talisman. His vision and intellect are what set him apart from everyone in football. Barcelona welcomed back Andres Iniesta to the lineup over the weekend, but he is still doubtful to be on the team sheet for the European fixture. Expect Cesc Fabregas to be flanking Xavi along with either Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, or Alex Song.
The back won’t have the inspirational Carlos Puyol, who is sidelined with an elbow injury. A likely starting back four could be Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Adriano and Jordi Alba. Barcelona could also move Mascherano to the back if need be.
Victor Valdes will start between the sticks for Barca. While not the busiest keeper in the world, Valdes will need to be focused for counter attacks that Barcelona are prone to.
Celtic will go into this fixture as heavy underdogs, but The Hoops are known for an indomitable spirit and a never-say-die attitude. That being said, they will have to be at their premium, to get a positive result at the Nou Camp.
The duo of Gary Hooper and Georgios Samaras will need to supply quality finishing for Celtic to succeed. Hooper leads Celtic with 10 goals in all competitions, while Samaras, the Greek International has 4 goals in all competitions, including the decisive tally at the death, against Spartak Moscow. Hooper provides speed and creativity, while Samaras provides size and strength. They are a formidable duo and should be respected.
Celtic do have options in the midfield, but need to be wary of the task ahead. Barcelona has arguably the best midfield in the world, and matching up will be demanding for Celtic. Scott Brown captains the midfield and is mainly used as a holding midfielder. His assignment will be to follow Xavi and disrupt him the best he can. However, Brown is battling a hip problem so he is questionable for the match. Welsh International Joe Ledley could also be used as a holding midfielder. Ledley was solid for Wales in their victory over Scotland in a World Cup qualifying match earlier this month. James Forrest is another holding midfielder that is available for Celtic, provided that his hamstring is fully healed. . If Celtic decide to go with two attacking midfielders, than Kris Commons and Kenyan International Victor Wanyama are the choices for offensive flair at the centre of the pitch. Commons has battled a groin problem and may not suit up. Wanyama scored twice in Celtic’s win over the weekend and is likely to be in the starting lineup.
The back four for Celtic have seen improvement, following a shaky start. Honduran International Emilio Izaguirre was excellent in World Cup qualifying and is hoping he can translate that play at club level. Centre back Charlie Mulgrew should be on the team sheet for his adroit set pieces. Kelvin Wilson should get the call as the other centre back. Right back has been alternated by Welsh International Adam Matthews and Swedish International Mikael Lustig. Matthews started over the weekend, so expect Lustig to be in the starting eleven, for Neal Lennon’s crew.
Fraser Forster will most likely start between the sticks for Celtic. Forster does have clean sheets in his last 4 matches in the SPL, and he will need to be in top form, against a swarming Barcelona attack.
There is no place quite like Nou Camp on a European night. Expect 100,000 boisterous supporters to shake the legendary ground like never before. Celtic are a fine squad, but don’t have the depth, or experience to match up against Barcelona. I do expect attacking football and goals in this one. Which will play right into Barcelona’s advantage. Barcelona should take it 4-1.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973