Can Celtic grab Barcelona scalp?

Posted by Andrew Muirhead

Neil LennonGettyImagesNeil Lennon ahead of Celtic's Champions League clash with Barcelona

Celtic celebrated their 125th anniversary on the November 6, 2012 as supporters, players, former players, management and the directors attended a commemorative event at St. Mary’s Church, organised by the Celtic Graves Society.

125 years ago, a group of men met in the church hall of St.Mary’s parish at the Calton in Glasgow, discussing the creation of a new football club in the east end of Glasgow.

That group of men were led by Marist Brother Walfrid, and they formed Celtic Football Club on that day.
Brother Walfrid said: "A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and unemployed." And to this day, Celtic continues to live up to that ethos, raising funds for causes worldwide.

Despite their charitable status, Celtic will be hoping that their defence is as tight as Scrooge when they face the attacking threat of Barcelona at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

Sunday’s league game against Dundee United showed that if the Celtic defence take their eye off the ball for even a split second they can be punished for it. With all respect to Dundee United, they are not even half as good as Barcelona are and with the likes of Lionel Messi, David Villa, Xavi and Iniesta in attack, Celtic could invariably be on a hiding to nothing if they play like they did against United on Sunday.

Celtic have faced Barcelona five times in the Champions League since season 2004/2005 with the last game being the 2-1 defeat at the Nou Camp last month. That game proved that Celtic could hold Barcelona and could score against arguably the best side in the world.

Neil Lennon’s side will have to be on their game, as they were in Barcelona, but if they are to take anything from Wednesday’s game then not only will they have to nullify the threat of Messi once again, but they must plug the leaks across the team, park the bus once more and attack on the counter - hopefully with Georgios Samaras leading the attack.

Samaras proved in the previous game that he was a real handful for the La Liga giants, scoring the opening goal of the game before he went off injured. From that point on, Celtic were on the back foot and never really threatened Victor Valdes again. So Samaras taking to the hallowed green turf at Celtic Park is a must.

Celtic have been hit by injury ahead of the game, though, with Lassad, James Forrest, Thomas Rogne and Emilio Izaguirre all out injured. Samaras, Brown and Hooper are struggling but will walk through fire to play against Barcelona.

Barca will be missing Carlos Puyol, Adriano and Thiago Alcantara through injury, while Sergio Busquets is suspended. But they welcome back Shakira’s bit of fluff, Gerard Pique, after a foot injury and will almost certainly feature.

Tito Vilanova’s side have won all three of their Champions League games so far, leaving them top of Group G with nine points, five points clear of Celtic who are in second place. Barca only need one point to secure qualification to the next round, but they won’t settle for a draw and will look to qualify in style.

Speaking to the media ahead of the game, Vilanova quashed the critics of Celtic, including former Barca player Bernd Schuster, who were claiming that the Scottish side were 'anti-football'. The Barca coach said: "I don't know how they will play in front of their own crowd, but they weren't that defensive really in the first game, they played really well. They played as we expected them to play - they were good at set-pieces and quick counters. It was really hard for us to beat them and we could only do that in the last minute.

"When you play against Barcelona, they force you to defend close to your goal. But everyone is free to play the way they like and we were never comfortable or relaxed about it - we were always afraid of the counter-attack."

And that is where Celtic’s strength lies - in set pieces and in the counter-attack, making Samaras arguably the key man when it comes to both.

Everyone is expecting Barcelona to do the job on the night by defeating Celtic, but as we all know, Celtic are buoyed up at home in front of their fans on nights like this. The fans have watched top teams in Europe turn up at Celtic Park, with the tag of favourites, and left Glasgow with their tails between their legs. Juventus, AC Milan, Manchester United, Barcelona and Benfica have all arrived at Celtic Park over the years and have been shown the door after being beaten.

Wednesday night's game, though, is totally different now, with Celtic a shadow of their former selves that took on the cream of Europe and defeated them under Martin O’Neill and latterly Gordon Strachan. But last year's Europa League competition and the games so far this season in Europe’s premier club competition have shown that Celtic are certainly no pushovers.-

Celtic manager Lennon said: "How do you solve a problem like Barcelona? You have to play to your very best. You have to play with full concentration, with great intensity and sometimes that's not enough. But certainly with a full house tomorrow night - and I'm sure the neutrals will enjoy the atmosphere and energy that our supporters bring to the game - then it should be a great night for the club."

Can Lennon’s chargers give the club, its fans and everyone connected to the club a late birthday present though? It will certainly warrant a few hangovers the next morning if they do down Barcelona.
As with every game, I always give a prediction either using my head or my heart. I hope to be celebrating a win for Celtic and that is my heart ruling, but my head states that Barcelona will fly back to Catalonia with all three points. Here's hoping my heart is right.

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