FC Barcelona 2 Celtic FC 1

Barça needed a 94th minute winner from Jordi Alba to see off a spirited Celtic side at Camp Nou tonight. The 2-1 victory leaves Barça as clear leaders in Uefa Champions League Group G with nine points from three matches, five points clear of Celtic who remain in second place. However, it was a tough night for the blaugrana, especially after Georgios Samaras headed Celtic in front with the help of a big deflection off Javier Mascherano. Andrés Iniesta fired Barça level just before half time after a good combination with Messi and Xavi. Throughout the second half Barça searched for a winner with no luck but the attacking ambition was rewarded with the last-gasp winning goal coming from a connection between right back Adriano who crossed and left back Jordi Alba who touched the ball over the line from close in.

With the numerous absentees in defence Tito Vilanova finally decided to play Marc Bartrá in central defence alongside Mascherano. Adriano was preferred over Montoya to fill in for Alves at right back while with Busquets suspended, Alex Song moved back to his favoured position of defensive midfield. Iniesta moved back to midfield, leaving no place for the in-form Fabregas. Up front, Pedro began on the right with Messi in the middle while Alexis got a start on the left.

It took Barça less than two minutes to split Celtic’s defence open with Iniesta threading a pass through to Alexis but the Chilean striker pulled his shot wide. However, Celtic were not rattled and and their defensive 4-4-1-1 formation proved difficult to break through. Alba demonstrated his ability to get forward, overlapping Alexis to put in a dangerous cross in the ninth minute, as Barça concentrated most attacks on the left.

Barça didn’t force a save from Celtic keeper Fraser Forster until the 16th minute after a typical Barça short corner came to Messi 35 yards out in the centre, Messi sent the reverse pass in for Iniesta’s run and Iniesta sent in a first time side-foot volley cross that Bartrá headed straight at Forster. Immediately from the keeper’s save Celtic broke forward with the powerful Victor Wanyama leading the charge, Adriano finally stole the ball from the Kenyan midfielder but then sent a wayward pass out to the left which was intercepted by Scott Brown. Alexis, tracking back, fouled the Celtic player and from Charlie Mulgrew’s inswinging free kick Samaras flicked on a header which hit Mascherano, taking a big deflection that gave Valdés no chance.

Celtic were obviously lifted by the goal and they set about defending tenaciously. Barça had all the possession but the chances were slow in coming. Messi fired a free kick a yard over, then in the 29th minute Bartrá failed to get good contact on his header from Iniesta’s cross, flicking the ball wide.

Barça began to raise the pace. Adriano had a low shot saved at the near post by Forster, Xavi tried a donkey kick style volley that went wide and Messi sent another free kick just over, his shot clipping the top of the net on its way down. Things began to go wrong for Celtic in the 40th minute when goalscorer Samaras landed awkwardly on his ankle after being pushed in the back by Adriano and had to be subbed off for James Forrest. Then in the 45th minute Messi played the ball forward to Iniesta who played a quick pass off to Xavi who controlled and return for Iniesta to receive and stab the ball past Forster’s dive.

The one-way traffic continued in the second half with Celtic pinned back deep with just Hooper now alone up front. However, from Celtic’s first corner Wanyama had a chance to score at the far post but he failed to get good contact. Messi tried a delicate lob that went over but there was little penetration from the Barça forwards.

Adriano had the first attempt on target of the second half in the 56th minute but it was an easy save for Forster and nearly ten more minutes passed before Forster had to save again from Messi’s 25-yard effort. Barça began to increase the tempo and Messi sent in Iniesta after dribbling across the edge of the area but Iniesta’s final shot again went straight at the Celtic keeper.

In the 68th minute Barça put together a tremendous flowing move, Messi moved the ball forward to Alexis who played the ball right to Pedro who sent in a low first time cross which found Messi six yards out but Forster made an excellent save. Then five minutes later Alba scooped a pass over the top for Alexis but Forster was out quickly to block and soon after Iniesta tried his own style of scooped pass into Messi whose diving header was splendidly turned inches past the post by Forster.

With time running out Vilanova brought on Tello and Villa for Pedro and Alexis. The forwards had been disappointing but their replacements fared little better. Tello sent in one cross towards Song but the excellent Wanyama managed to get in the way. Barça’s full backs continued to push forward, Adriano skied a chance in the 88th minute and soon after Alba was battling into the area to win yet another corner.

A striker might have finished the hero but Villa fired against the base of the post with the clock on 89 minutes 56 seconds. It wasn’t the strikers’ night but it wasn’t Celtic’s either. In the 94th minute, Bartrá, who hardly put a foot wrong all night, pushed forward on the right before finding Tello, the winger tried to go past the full back but finding no way, turned and played the ball back to Adriano who sent in a deep cross to the far post where Alba got away from Commons to edge the ball across the line from barely a yard.

Another victory, another game that leaves doubts. The defence was generally much better though Celtic hardly put them under any pressure. All the danger was again at set pieces and even though there were only about four crosses in the entire game for our defence to deal with, we again looked very vulnerable. In attack, playing against a team that played two deep lines of four, our forwards struggled a lot in the one-on-ones. we could really do with Villa and Alexis finding their form while today even Pedro was disappointing.

However, I reserve my biggest gripe tonight for Tito Vilanova. First, how is it possible he didn’t try Bartrá before. It’s not as if he’s had no first team experience, and every time he’s had a chance he’s given a good showing. The decision to try Song there has proved to be a mistake and I don’t know how much has to do with trying to please a new player but it could have been very costly. We should have Piqué and Puyol back in the not-too-distant future but if we have more injury problems in defence Tito should definitely go with Bartrá ahead of Song from what we have seen. The other strange decision tonight was that of benching Cesc Fabregas. When he was playing poorly Tito stuck with him while sacrificing Xavi or Iniesta, now that he’s started finding his best form and Tito leaves him sitting on the bench for 90 minutes. If the results keep coming then Tito will have no problems. However, I’m not quite sure whether his luck will hold out until May.

Barça: (4-3-3) Valdés 6.5: Adriano 7, Bartrá 7.5, Mascherano 6.5, Alba 8; Xavi 7, Song 6.5, Iniesta 7.5; Pedro 5.5 (Tello m76, 6), Messi 6.5, Alexis 6 (Villa m80, 6.5).

Celtic: (4-4-1-1) Forster; Lustig, Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre; Brown (Commons m63), Wanyama, Ledley, Mulgrew (Beram Kayal m76); Hooper; Samaras (Forrest m41).

Goals: m18 Samaras 0-1, m45 Iniesta 1-1, m94 Alba 2-1.

Yellow cards: m71 Mascherano, m79 Adriano

Attendance: 77,781

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9 Responses to FC Barcelona 2 Celtic FC 1

  1. layibiyi says:

    whew, that was close once again..lucky boys. We needed more imagination early on. I agree a good amount of blame should be placed on the wide players, pedro and alexis. Very impressed with Bartra, noticed when he stopped counter attacks by himself a couple of times.

    Hey Nic, I would think it would be easier for you to understand why cesc was benched. Cesc, xavi and iniesta are bascially fighting for 2 slots. Somebody is most likely going to be benched if we are playing every 3 days no matter who is on form. Sure you could say move iniesta forward just for a while so cesc can maintain his current form, but there already 4 people fighting for those slots and villa is still struggling to get games there despite the fact everybody can see he’s ready.

    Basically, i’m trying to say we have so much attacking depth and enough matches to play such that form will not be that much important in deciding who plays (maybe it does for tello), so far its not a must win game and we don’t necessarily need some specific characteristics of a player (eg xavi for control). Its just like benzema and higuain, benzema could score a 5 goals in a game and still sit out the next so far its not against barca or something. What I would though like is for cesc to be able to deliver a certain level when called upon. I also understand that can be hard if he had never fully integrated.

    As per Bartra, I do not think the technical staff were aware that song was that bad as a central back when they bought him so they had to at least try him out. I for one have seen him play CB for Cameroun and do well. And there were the tough games (madrids, sevilla, valencia, osasuna) that tito could not just throw Bartra into. Now is actually the period I expected Bartra to get game time for assessment. Just my opinion though, tito might have been forcing the issue, nobody knows.

    Sorry for the long essay :)

    • barcacentralnic says:

      Hi Layi. You’re right of course about the competition Cesc faces to get a game, and I have been among the complainers when Iniesta gets moved to left wing in the past. I just thought a place had to be found for Cesc given the form he is in. I guess Tito wants to having him straining at the leash for his next opportunity.
      As for Bartrá I guess I was frustrated when he didn’t get the chance last month. I’ve always seen him a perfect substitute for Piqué, and yesterday’s performances just added to that feeling. I hope Song can sort it out if he is called on to play in defence again. For now he looks like a very good back up for Busquets.

      Sorry for the short reply ;-)

      • layibiyi says:

        Cool

        I think many fans (I included) have been pushing for bartra too. He has always impressed whenever called upon. He will still make a couple of mistakes which is expected but getting the chance to prove himself is pivotal.

  2. Fredegar says:

    The resilience this team shows is just amazing. At least it makes for fun games, not ones where at the 60 min mark you wonder what you will do in the next 30 as you already lead 4-0 and the rhythm is dropping (note that I probably shouldn’t complain ;-)
    But the trend is worrying too, as we will probably not win a lot of things this year if we keep relying on last minute goals (would love to be proved wrong on that!).
    The defense is obviously the first point to get right. While it’s true that we miss a lot of players there, it must also be said that we have not looked good in this department at any point of the season so far, whoever played. I fear that if we can’t get better quickly in this area, the season could be a long long one…
    The second point is related to the one you discussed interestingly about Cesc: since the start of the season, Tito has been willing to rotate a lot and to use almost his full team. Cesc, Xavi and Iniesta have taken turns on the bench (even Thiago had a say in midfield before his injury), but the front line has possibly even more evolved, with four players almost equally sharing two spots. While the idea was clearly to keep the team as fit as possible as long as possible (and for good reason as we often looked knackered at the end of the season under Pep) and hope that this policy will pay its dividends in March-April-May, it could also be said that for now it has unsettled the team (clearly what Pep didn’t want to happen). We have been able to play at a fantastic level in some games, but only for brief spells, mostly at the end of games. It could also be said that with our defensive frailties, it’s a big risk to make so many changes in the team at every game, that will hardly help Song/Adriano/Bartra to settle at centre back.
    Still, through probably a bit of luck, a lot of mental fortitude and of course the sheer class of our team, the results for now are unassailable, we must probably be very close to our best start ever and the ride has been very enjoyable, so I think it’s a bit early to start attacking Tito.

  3. FCB-Parbo says:

    Couldn’t watch the entire match, follow it a little bit via live stream at work and before Iniesta’s goal I had to leave work. I was so glad when my brother phoned me that is was a win for Barca. With all the drama, we are still unbeaten this season. This says something about their mentality and I hope it stays that way, ’cause the season is still long. Take my hat off for those guys. Saw the highlights and they were 2 stunning goals, especially the first one. What a team effort.

    Visca Barca!!

  4. barcacentralomer says:

    @Nic: I agree that Bartra should probably have been given a chance much earlier but like some1 said, perhaps the big games against the likes of Sevilla and Madrid made Tito go for experience and field Song ahead of the youngsters. Still a strange decision IMO . Nic do you think the management has made a call on these four youngsters – Muniesa,Fontas,Bartra and Montoya? Are they sure which ones they are going to keep or are they still adopting a wait and see policy?

    While its too early to judge Tito, I get the feeling he’s not sure what his best XI is. This seems rather strange cos he’s spent quite a few years with most of these guys and by now should be clear about what his starting line-up should be. The defence has been plagued by injuries and so we can’t expect to see a consistent line-up there but upfront its more like Messi and 2 others with Villa,Sanchez,Tello, Pedro and even Iniesta and Cesc being tried out over there.

    • barcacentralnic says:

      @omer Fontás has been loaned to Mallorca so at least now he´ll get some playing time. As for Montoya and Bartrá I believe they both have the talent but it is complicated when they have Alves and Pique blocking their way. They will both need to continue developing while needing both patience and luck if they are to break through. Both have done well so far when used in the first team. Muniesa, I’m still not sure about, and with such bad luck with injuries it is very difficult for him to break through.
      Many may wonder why some youngsters are promoted to the first team and then not used: why not keep them playing in the B team? It seems management will give these players a chance with a first team contract for a year or two but then if they don’t make it completely (think Bojan, Jeffren and now Fontás) then a loan or transfer with buy-back clause seems to be the policy.

      As for having a set starting XI, I don’t think it’s necessary at this point of the season. With rotations you keep the players fresher and hungrier and you also get the chance to see how they are developing, individually and as a unit. Then by March you should start to look for the best XI to be used in all the crucial games at the end of the season.

  5. Caleb says:

    wow, a bit harsh perhaps… taking over was never going to be easy for Tito but so far things have been alright. He definitely hasn’t gotten everything right but we are still in good position in both the league and champions. I agree the Barta decision is a bit puzzling but Tito may want to ease him into this as many young players do not transition well and never seem to recover confidence. Nonetheless it does seem he should have been given a chance earlier. For me, the real test will be if Tito starts Barta more going forward.

    The season is still young. Let’s hope that Barca can improve their form. For now it is nice to be winning the close games and we’ve had some rather exciting stuff to watch.

  6. Pingback: Champions League Preview: Celtic vs FC Barcelona | barçacentral

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