Barça need just one point from the final Champions League group match against Celtic at Camp Nou tomorrow night to confirm top spot in Group H (Wednesday 8.45 pm). Leo Messi, Victor Valdés and Dani Alves continue on the injured list while Cesc Fabregas, who scored the winner when the teams met in Glasgow in October, is suspended for the game. However, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Cristian Tello have all recovered from minor injuries and should be ready to start if needed. Adama Traore and Jean-Marie Dongou are again included in Tata Martino’s 20-man squad for the game though two players will be left out when Martino gives his final list of 18 players shortly before the game.
There may be some fans who feel that it makes little difference whether Barça finish top or second in the group as we will have to beat the best in the end if we are going to win the competition. However, it would certainly be a tough tie if we were drawn against Bayern Munich in the last 16 and our confidence could take a dent for our league challenge if we were to take a beating in Europe in early March. Bayern might not be looking quite so formidible in ten weeks’ time, of course, but it would probably be advisable to avoid the possibility of facing the Germans in the next round if we can.
For this reason I expect Martino to put out his strongest available team tomorrow. Pinto will continue in goal while we could see a defence of Adriano, Bartra, Piqué and Alba though Martino may choose to continue showing faith in Mascherano. Montoya, like Tello, may have lost favour for his comments last week (Montoya criticised the team’s attitude while Tello spoke of the possibility of leaving if he doesn’t get more opportunities) while Puyol has been struggling to regain his pace and seems unlikely to be risked tomorrow. Xavi and Iniesta should return to join Sergio Busquets in midfield though it was interesting to see Alex Song and Sergi Roberto in the cup game at Cartagena as they seemed to add more dynamism to the team. With no Fabregas to play the Leo Messi role, it seems likely that Martino will again use Neymar as a central striker which will mean Alexis and Pedro will probably continue on the flanks.
Whatever happens tomorrow Celtic are sure to finish bottom of the group so they only have pride and prize money to play for. Coach Neil Lennon is without James Forrest, Beram Kayal and Tom Rogic but full-back Adam Matthews could return to action after seven weeks out, while captain Scott Brown is back after a three-game European ban after being sent off for his assault on Neymar at Celtic Park. Striker Georgios Samaras and midfielder Nir Biton have recovered from illness and have also joined Celtic’s squad who have travelled to Barcelona today.
Barça have never had it easy against Celtic at Camp Nou with the four games between the clubs in Barcelona over the last ten years ending in two draws and two narrow wins for Barça. Jordi Alba needed to score an injury-time winner in the last meeting at Camp Nou which Barça won 2-1 in November 2012. Tomorrow I’m expecting Barça to earn a slightly more comfortable victory.
Barça’s 20-man squad: Pinto, Oier, Adriano, Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Pedro, Alexis, Dongou, Neymar, Adama, Tello.
Barça: Pinto; Adriano, Bartra, Piqué, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Neymar, Pedro.
Celtic: Forster; Lustig, Van Dijk, Ambrose, Izaguirre; Brown, Ledley, Commons, Mulgrew; Pukki, Stokes.
Prediction: Barça 2 Celtic 0
Date: Wednesday 11 December 2013. Kick off 8.45 pm local time.