Our UEFA Champions League scribe previews Wednesday night's Group C tie between Celtic and Barcelona.
Celtic Park will be the stage for what is shaping up to be an intriguing Group C clash. Barcelona have been through an injury crisis of late and are now deep in the mire of shot confidence. Failure to dispose of nine man Malaga has left them trailing Real Madrid by four points in La Liga.
Brendon Rodgers’ side - whilst retaining a glimmer of a hope of qualification for the next round - really blew their best opportunity against Borussia Monchengladbach at home. Now they face an uphill task as Lionel Messi seems fit to return to action this week. The diminutive wizard was instrumental in helping Barcelona absolutely decimate Celtic 7-0 at the Nou Camp.
UEFA Champions League | Wednesday 23 November | Celtic Park | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Celtic 8/1 | Draw 9/2 | Barcelona 1/4
Celtic have virtually racked up an unassailable lead in the race for the Scottish League title. Eternal rivals Rangers are still dealing with the ramifications of their time in Scottish exile and it seems as if domestic success is all that Celtic can hope for. They are clearly a better team at home and even have history against Barca here.
Few will forget the way that they heroically thwarted Guardiola’s side in 2012, winning 2-1 despite enjoying only 19 percent possession in the entire game. The Scottish giants will be hoping to catch out Barcelona at a vulnerable period for the Catalans.
Having decided to backtrack on his decision to retire from international football, Scott Brown is set to have a titanic battle in midfield this week. He will be pleased about the absence of Andres Iniesta. He will need Rodig and Forrest to put an equal amount of ‘devil may care’ effort in as Lionel Messi returns to the fray.
I expect Kolo Toure to miss out as the once gargantuan Ivorian battles to not look amateurish at the top level. Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele will look to counter as often as possible and will need to capitalize on Barcelona’s fairly extensive injury issues.
The major news for Barca is that Messi has returned to training and is expected to return to wreak havoc this week. Furthermore, Jordi Alba looks set to return at left-back and will provide a sense of width down that left-hand side that perhaps Digne couldn’t quite produce.
The Spanish giants are still without influential centre-half Samuel Umtiti and Jeremy Mathieu will probably only make it to the bench. Javier Mascherano will continue to deputize alongside Pique and this area could be a potential source of weakness for Luis Enrique’s side.
Aleix Vidal will likely continue to deputize for Iniesta in midfield, as Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are the more defensive options. We must also mention that Luis Suarez didn’t feature either in that ignominious performance against Malaga. He provides a more robust focal point that sometimes comes as a tonic to the occasionally over-elaborate Barca way.
But generally speaking, Barca will see this as a welcome respite from their La Liga issues. They have nine points and know a victory will put them in prime position to qualify top. They have beaten Celtic on seven of their eleven meetings and should completely exorcise those 2012 demons on Wednesday.
Verdict: Barcelona - Halftime/Fulltime Win (15/20)
I expect Barcelona to do a bit of a Real Madrid and just be merciless in their execution. Messi is back and Barcelona have the perfect platform to dispel the ‘myth’ of their demise.
Written by Damian Kayat for @Hollywoodbets