Barcelona avoid repeat of Glasgow nightmare

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

Job done in the East End of Glasgow for Barcelona with ten-man Celtic overcome 1-0 thanks to a 75th-minute Cesc Fabregas header. While the rest of Europe will not shake with fear at this performance, the fact is the rest of Europe is probably too busy trying to advance out of their own groups to even notice.

- Report: Celtic 0-1 Barcelona

The added bonus was that AC Milan could only draw 1-1 at Ajax thanks to a hugely controversial 94th-minute penalty by Mario Balotelli, and Barca is now suddenly in control at the top of group H after two games.

The two teams stayed true to their styles tonight which perhaps overcomplicated the game as a spectacle for the armchair fan, but the performance of Neymar will give Barca fans hope for more exciting nights in Europe to come.

Barca struggled to create many clear-cut chances, especially in the first half, and will be grateful for one moment of madness that helped give the Catalans victory and avoid all unfair talk of either being Messi-dependent or having problems with the coach's new style of play.

There were huge amounts of possession with little bite from Barca dressed all in black. While it wasn't a case of Celtic parking the bus -- more edging it slowly out of the parking bay from time to time -- but, there was enough caution from the Scottish champions to frustrate the Blaugrana.

Neymar, rested on Saturday at Almeria, was called to step up to the plate in the absence of Lionel Messi, and he did not disappoint. The Brazilian spent most of the evening at least attempting to go past Celtic defenders. When he did manage to do that, he often earned free kicks or drew yellow cards for the opposition.

However, for an hour tonight there was little evidence of a game breaking out until Celtic captain Scott Brown, frustrated again by Neymar's pace, fouled him and then inexplicably swung a boot at the Brazilian a whole four paces later as he lay on the ground.

At first, the red looked harsh, but on closer inspection the only observation can be: What was Brown thinking? From there, you would expect it to be plain sailing and an easy victory for Barca, but it wasn't.

Plucky Celtic had its two best chances with ten men, and Victor Valdes was key again, as he has been so many times already this season, when James Forrest forced him into a fantastic save from a shot that he saw late but managed to palm over the bar on 72 minutes.

From the resulting corner Valdes flapped uncharacteristically, but Charlie Mulgrew headed just wide, and that was the end of the frights for Barca.

Three minutes later and on the break after a Celtic corner, Neymar held the ball up and spotted the fresh legs of Alexis, brought on only seconds before, heading for the line on the right and the Chilean sent a perfect centre over for Fabregas to grab the winner with a looping header.

The goal came just in time for Barca as the bench was preparing the second change of the night as it went in. They carried it out seconds later and Fabregas made way for Cristian Tello, taking his goal and the vital three points with him.

After the goal, Barca was happy to keep the passing as short as possible in an attempt to hold possession; against ten men, of course it is even easier, the simple fact being if the opposition has so little contact with the ball, they can't score.

And that is how Barca played it out, keen to prove earlier lessons had been learnt from La Liga this season when leads were cheaply thrown away.

Celtic keeper Fraser Forster saved well from Neymar and Sanchez in the dying moments and then from Neymar once more to show yet again what a good keeper he is, and performances like this mean he could yet come into international contention for an England side so short of good keepers.

Tata Martino continues to adapt seamlessly to Spanish and European football, what more can be asked than the current run of seven straight league victories and now two in the Champions League.

Afterward, he told Spanish TV that Neymar's performance had been "good," and both player and coach will add the game to their own personal lockers of European football experience. They will surely have more rigorous battles to come, but nights like Tuesday will certainly help in facing them.


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