Barcelona v Celtic: Busy, beaten Catalans welcome upbeat Scottish side to open Uefa Champions League
BARCELONA // The Celtic fans flying into Barcelona on Sunday night had mixed feelings.
On a flight from Manchester, young men in their 20s who had driven the four hours south from Glasgow to catch the flight were still delighted after Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Rangers.
Yet they were nervous that Celtic could be on the wrong end of a similar scoreline against Barcelona.
A possibility they were discussing as they readied their passports for inspection, the first wave of the 1,900 fans expected in Camp Nou.
It would be many more if they would have had more than two weeks to book the trip after the draw for the group stages of the Uefa Champions League was made.
“I’d settle for us playing well,” opined one, “even if we lose 3-0.”
“Don’t be stupid,” replied his friend. “I’ve seen us get a draw here. And Barcelona were beaten at home on Saturday by Alaves. Are you telling me that Alaves are a bigger club than Celtic?”
Alaves are not a bigger club than the Scottish Premiership side, but they play in a league which is far superior to Scotland’s.
Celtic have not managed a victory in any of their previous 14 matches against Primera Liga sides.
The omens this time are not good for the first British team to win the European Cup. Celtic were hit for six at Camp Nou in 2013 and the Catalans have won five of the last six encounters between the pair.
Yet in March 2004 Celtic knocked Barcelona out of European competition. They won the first leg of their Uefa Cup game 1-0 and then held Barcelona in Camp Nou in a game watched by 10,000 travelling Celtic fans.
The Glasgow side had players of the calibre of Henrik Larsson, Neil Lennon and Stiliyan Petrov.
The current side does not and Celtic will go into the game without injured striker Leigh Griffiths, who scored their goal when Barcelona beat Celtic 3-1 in a pre-season game in Dublin.
“Having played against Celtic in pre-season helps us, but it will be different when playing an official game,” Barçelona coach Luis Enrique said.
“We’ll meet a similar team to the one we met in pre-season. They’ll press us, associate well. They’ll make it difficult.”
Defender Jordi Alba, who sat alongside his boss at Monday’s pre-match press conference, said: “We need to have the ball. We’ll see if they play four or five defenders like others do.
“We have to be aggressive to recover the ball, try to create chances and attack well on the wings.”
Saturday’s defeat at home to Alaves was a distinctly below-par start to their run of seven games in 22 days for Barcelona.
“Competing every three days is good because it helps us improve physically and if you lose you can change that quickly,” claimed Alba, who is unlikely to have the still-injured Ter Stegen in goal behind him. Barcelona won all five of their Champions League home games last season, while Celtic have not won in eight European away games.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was Luis Suarez’s manager at Liverpool between 2012-14. The pair are now working at clubs with vastly different expectations.
Anything but victory would be seen as failure for Barcelona, and anything but defeat would be a success for their Scottish visitors.
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Published: September 12, 2016 04:00 AM