It’s back to the Champions League tomorrow night with the visit of Celtic Football Club to Camp Nou in the third round of Group G. With no players recovered from the long injury list Tito Vilanova will have to make do with the same group that conceded four goals at Deportivo on Saturday minus the suspended Sergio Busquets.
Since Carles Puyol dislocated his elbow in the 0-2 win at Benfica, Barça have conceded six goals in two games which makes it a total of 17 goals in twelve games this season, well above the average under Pep Guardiola. Indeed, we hadn’t conceded four in one match since March 2009 when we lost 4-3 in another crazy match with Atlético Madrid.
There is no immediate solution to our problems but with Busquets out we can at least hope that Alex Song will be used in midfield rather than in defence where he has struggled to fit in. I don’t suppose Tito is going to reconsider the possibility of playing Marc Bartrá so we are like to see a defence the Montoya, Mascherano, Adriano and Alba which played together for the last hour of the clásico.
No such problems in midfield or up front, unless of course Leo Messi is called away due to the imminent birth of his son. Xavi should return in midfield while Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Villa, Alexis and Tello will compete for the other places. I think there is a good chance that Iniesta may again be asked to play out of position to accommodate the in-form Fabregas.
Celtic’s rivalry with their neighbours Rangers is probably the only rivalry in modern football that can be compared to Barça-Madrid. Both rivalries have been based on more than just football, and for many Barça and Celtic could be seen to share the historical position of symbolically representing the oppressed half of the people. The passion created by the two rivalries has led to another curious similarity: the fact that the four clubs involved totally dominate their domestic leagues.
However, with the recent fall of Rangers to the Scottish Third Division following the divine intervention of the Pope, it will be interesting to see how Celtic cope without the motivation of beating their enemy. It is undoubtedly very funny to see your old enemy lose to little Stirling Albion but there will be a part of Celtic that will also miss the head-to-head battles between the clubs. It seems likely that Celtic will be putting more emphasis on their European campaign and coach Neil Lennon rested several players for Saturday’s 0-5 win at St Mirren. They will be hoping to reach the last 16 of the competition for the first time since 2007/08 when we beat them 4-2 on aggregate in the last 16. Having taken four points from a home draw with Benfica and an away win at Spartak Moscow they obviously have a pretty good chance to qualify from the group but any points picked up against Barça will be vital to their cause.
Barça also played Celtic four times in 2004. Celtic got the better of the Uefa cup tie in March, winning 1-0 on aggregate, and the last time the sides met in the group stage of the Champions League, in autumn 2004, Barça won 1-3 at Celtic Park while the game at Camp Nou ended in a 1-1 draw.
Barça: Valdés; Montoya, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba; Xavi, Song, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Celtic: Forster; Izaguirre, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew; Lustig, Brown, Commons, Wanyama; Samarras, Hooper.
Prediction: Barça 4 Celtic 1