Celtic will be hoping lightning strikes twice on Tuesday (19:45 BST, live on ITV1) when they host reigning Spanish champions Barcelona on the second match day of the Champions League group stage.
Celtic caused a major upset when they beat Barca 2-1 at Celtic Park last year. After an encouraging display in their defeat away to AC Milan in the first match of this year’s group stage, manager Neil Lennon will dare to dream of a repeat this time around.
Lennon was pleased by his side’s performance in Milan. They went toe-to-toe with the Italian giants, playing with good purpose in possession and effectively utilising the whole width of the pitch. Their hosts were lucky to emerge victorious following two goals in the final 10 minutes.
Last year’s victory over Barca, alongside four points from their two other home matches and an away win over Spartak Moscow, saw Celtic progress into the knockout rounds for the first time since the 2007/08 season. It will be a tall order for Lennon’s men to repeat that performance this year, with Dutch side Ajax completing the four team group.
Celtic are undefeated in their seven Scottish Premier League matches so far this season, recording six victories and one draw. They are currently joint top of the table with a match in hand and come into Tuesday’s fixture on the back of a 5-2 thrashing of Kilmarnock, in which Georgios Samaras netted a hat trick.
Despite the scoreline, Lennon was less than happy with both his side’s slow start to the match and their defensive sloppiness to allow Kilmarnock back into it. He is acutely aware of the need to eradicate both faults if his side is to have any chance of getting a result on Tuesday.
Lennon will welcome back James Forrest and Beram Kayal after both missed the weekend victory, while full-back Adam Matthews is expected to overcome a virus to be available for selection. Midfielder Joe Ledley will definitely miss out as he continues his recovery from a groin injury.
Barcelona come into the match on the back of their best ever start to a league season. They have won all seven of their fixtures to date and currently sit top of the table, ahead of the similarly fast-starting Atletico Madrid on goal difference. They also began their Champions League campaign in fine style, defeating Ajax 4-1 at the Camp Nou.
Tito Vilanova was forced to step down from his position as head coach this summer following the reemergence of his throat cancer. His replacement, Gerardo Martino, is neither a former Barcelona player nor from the Dutch school that has so influenced the club over the last 40 or so years and has already made some subtle changes to the team’s approach.
Martino, an Argentinian who enjoyed great success with the Paraguay national team and latterly, Newell’s Old Boys, is a coach who emphasises the importance of forward motion in possession. It is already clear that he intends to bring some more variety to Barcelona’s play. More crosses and greater use of long diagonal passes are the early evidence of his changes.
This push to be more offensive in possession has, however, led to Barca forgoing some the control they were previously able to exert when ahead. Valencia pegged them back to 3-2 with two goals in four minutes, while Sevilla came back from two goals down to tie 2-2, only for Alexis Sanchez to pop up with a late winner.
Overall, though, the signs have been highly promising in Martino’s early days in Catalonia. Lionel Messi has eight goals in six appearances, Cesc Fabregas has revelled in the more attacking style, providing six assists, while expensive new signing Neymar is starting to find his feet at the Camp Nou.
Messi picked up a small muscle tear in his right thigh shortly after opening the scoring in Barca’s 2-0 victory away to Almeria on Saturday and looks set to miss out on Tuesday. Javier Mascherano will definitely be absent due to a hamstring injury, while fellow defenders Carlos Puyol and Jordi Alba will both undergo late fitness tests.
Celtic v Barcelona Betting Tips Verdict
These two sides have met eight times in European competition over the last 10 years, with Barcelona winning four to Celtic’s two. At Celtic Park, they share two victories apiece, making the Catalan side one of the more successful away teams at a ground where AC Milan, Benfica, Juventus and Manchester United have been defeated since the turn of the century.
With Messi all but certain to miss out, Celtic can take some solace from the manner in which Barcelona laboured to a narrow 1-0 victory away to Malaga during his only previous absence so far this season. With an organised defensive display and a strong performance from goalkeeper Fraser Forster, we believe they can stay within striking distance of their illustrious opponents.
- Back Celtic +1.5 on the Asian Handicap @ best odds of 716/1000 with Ladbrokes.
- One of the most impressive facets of Barcelona’s play so far this season has been the relentless manner in which they have started matches. Lennon seems fully aware of the need for his side to stay strong and compact in the early exchanges. With this in mind, back no goal between 0-30 minutes @ 13/10 with Unibet.