Match day 3 of Champions League opened the doors to a dramatic night at the Nou Camp, perhaps one not expected by too many Blaugrana fans as Celtic handed Barça a challenging showdown. A game that had it all: a shocking lead by Celtic, injuries and of course, the edge-of-your-seat anxiety that reached the ultimate peak in the last minute of overtime as Jordi Alba crushed the hearts of Hoops fans worldwide.
Celtic coach, Neil Lennon opened up to the press prior to this Group G fixture stating that his team would take to the field with a “winning mentality”. Perhaps still flying high from his sides crushing defeat over St. Mirren on the weekend, Lennon and his side seemed geared to face this Barça side with the fury of a thousand men. A challenging task as Celtic has never won an away game to a Spanish league club, with a track record consisting of 9 losses and 3 draws, but the Celtic fans had a renewed hope. Could this be the squad to rewrite history? The 21,000 Celtic fans who made their way to the Catalan capital sure thought so. The visiting side, only allotted 10,000 tickets, more than doubled that in supporters’ numbers and made their presence well known at the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nou.
As Barça continue to struggle with injuries, Celtic manager Lennon made no secret of the fact that his side would look to take advantage of a broken Barcelona backline. Thus, forcing Tito’s hand in finding an alternative defense that wouldn’t leave the sides weakness exposed. Valdes in the net (and despite his gaff over the weekend) one can’t help but simply accept the fact that he will inevitably bounce back, as he always does, Vilanova opted for Bartra in the centre alongside Mascherano, with Adriano at right back and Alba on the left. With Busquets suspended for this match, Alex Song took the role in defensive midfield. It may have been youngster Bartra’s debut, which also means that Tito has now used 20 players thus far this season, but Bartra enjoyed a stellar game making the most recoveries, with a total of 18 interventions.
Admittedly, not the most solid backline, but then again it didn’t seem as though Celtic would be spending much time in their own half, that is until the shocking goal by Samaras in the 17th minute that sent the Celtic fans into a frenzy and leaving the Barça fans stunned. The pressure was on and Barcelona continued to push forward, without avail. As a fan of watching the beautiful game flow, it is always aggravating to watch a team “park the bus”. As Chelsea proved last year, this method may indeed work with an offensively strong side like Barcelona, but simultaneously makes for a fairly boring game. For the majority of the first half, fans played witness to a Barça side that repeatedly tried to find a way past the Celtic defense and GK, Forster – who had a remarkable night making numerous important saves, and denying Messi over and over. And just as it seemed as though Celtic would head into halftime with a secure lead, Iniesta finally found the net in the 44th to put Blaugrana back in the game.
While the second half definitely offered a far more intriguing half than the first, with both sides seeking that winning goal, it seemed as though the Celtic side would hand Barcelona their second tie of the season, but in true Barça style, the game isn’t over until the final whistle blows…and with merely seconds left, Jordi Alba sealed the victory for Barcelona in the 93rd minute, sending the fans into celebration mode as the faces of Hoops fans dropped. So close, yet so far.
Despite the high tension game, Vilanova believed that his side deserved to take an early lead, and praised his squad for carrying the weight of the game throughout the entire match. He also stated that “Celtic was very strong and very powerful on the counter”, and added that it’s never an easy task when 10 of the other team’s players defend in their own area. More than proud of the attitude that his players have shown during every match of the season thus far, he added “This team fights until the end, until the last moment. It’s never easy when big teams close themselves off at the back.”
The two sides are set to meet for the second leg of this clash on November 7th and FC Barcelona will travel to Celtic Park with a more solid backline as Busquets and Pique will both be available for this match. One must hand it to Neil Lennon and the Hoops on a game well played, but now the question becomes, will they manage to pull off an upset at home when the two teams meet again? After last night showing, it doesn’t seem like an improbability…
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In what can only be described as one of the most thrilling games during this La Liga season, thus far, Barcelona and Real Madrid once again showed just why they are considered to be two of the best teams in the world. A game driven by far more than just a club rivalry, this clash had it all…underlying political tension, a showdown between Messi and Ronaldo and some of the finest football! A draw that would mark Barça’s first of the season, and the 47th between these Spanish rivals, offered a tense ninety minutes of swift, precise and beautiful footy, synonymous with this historical clash that dates back all the way to 1929.
A Political Affair – Catalonia v. Spain
With more political tension than ever before, as the people of Catalonia continue to fight for their independence, last night’s match opened the door for Catalonia to show millions watching worldwide that they would not back down in their struggle for autonomy. FC Barcelona allowed a sold-out Camp Nou’s 98,000 fans to proudly display a mosaic, depicting the Catalan colors. The chants for independence roared out during the 17th minute and 14th second of the game, in reference to the Catalan military defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, further added to this political demonstration.
Despite the fact that Barça defender, Pique, had stated via Twitter that “The games between Barcelona and Madrid increasingly resemble Catalonia against Spain and this should not happen…It’s just a football match”, for the people of Catalonia it was certainly far more than just that. Fellow teammate, Xavi, praised his football club for allowing fans to display the Catalan colors, but played down the political tension surrounding the game. Whether or not the team considered it just a game, it was clearly a politically driven event for those die-hard Catalan folks seeking independence from Spain.
Dynamic Display by Messi and Ronaldo
Messi and Ronaldo, undoubtedly two of the best players in the world gave fans a spectacular showdown last night, as both scored two goals in the game that would end in the 47th draw between the two sides. Surrounded by numerous Barça fans, many referred to the face-off as a “Western duel at sunset”. CR7 found the net in the 23rd to put the Madridistas in the lead with a perfect pass from Benzema, but Messi would equalize for the Blaugranas merely eight minutes later as a defensive slip by Los Blancos granted the Messi-ah an easy ball flicked right past Casillas. Messi would double the score in the 61st minute with a free kick from about 25 yards outside the box, once again showing why he is considered the best in the world by millions of fans and critics. Just as quickly as Messi had equalized in the first half, CR7 did the same to level the score, once again. What could have sealed the win for Barça came from a surprising substitute, Montoya in the 89th minute, who found the crossbar leaving fans hanging on the edge of their seats, followed by a wide ball from Pedro just seconds later, yet the Barcelona side found themselves without that winning goal. The game marked Messi’s 17th career goal against Madrid, leaving him one short of Madrid legend, Di Stefano’s record. As the table stands, Messi, Ronaldo and Falcao are tied at the top of the La Liga goal scoring sheet, with 8 goals each.
Barça’s Defensive Woes Continue…
It goes without saying that all eyes were fixated on the thinning Barça backline, which sans Pique and Puyol seemed to unravel. FC Barcelona, who certainly cannot afford any further injuries, especially to their shaky defense took another hit when Alves suffered an injury to his left thigh in the 27th minute. Medical reports have ruled the Barcelona full back out of action for the next three weeks. Vilanova praised his squad post-game, stating that they had managed to remain in the game, despite the absence of the first-choice back four: Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Abidal.
Blaugrana’s Stellar Offensive Play
Although many may still be questioning the absence of star-striker, David Villa, Barcelona showed off their dynamic and swift skills as they maintained control constantly finding their way to the into the Real Madrid half. A more flowing play radiated during the second half as the Messi-Alexis duo displayed their undeniable chemistry, granting the sold out crowd at the Nou Camp a stellar show…one that won’t be forgotten any time soon. One can’t help but wonder, had Barcelona been able to utilize their full line-up, just how differently this game could have ended?
Barça and Atlético Madrid Atop the League
Following Atlético Madrid’s defeat over Malaga, and yet another tremendous display by Falcao, Atlético remains tied with Barcelona, both atop the league with 19 points. Real Madrid trails by eight as tensions remain to run high between several players and Mourinho, showing once again that perhaps there may be some truth to the theory that locker-room drama inevitably makes its way onto the field…
Headlines in Spain may still be focused on what many consider “the comeback of Champions”, following Barcelona’s spectacular turnaround from a 2-goal deficit against Sevilla over the weekend in a display that all Blaugrana fans have been waiting for since the season started. Despite their unbeaten record in La Liga thus far, the squad seem to lack that swift and precise play and that may all be to blame on the unseemingly bad luck that has befallen the squad as a string of injuries continues to hamper an already shaky backline…but the breathtaking play by Barça turned the dooming deficit into a vivacious victory with remarkable goals by Fàbregas, and a third by Villa to solidify their spot at the top of La Liga ahead of Sunday’s ‘El Clásico’. Now, with their second triumph in the Champions League race against Benfica, the Barcelona side seems to be well on track in their quest to victory.
Alexis Steals The Show As Barça Secures Victory Against Benfica
In the much anticipated match of the Group G fixture, Benfica –FC Barcelona, fans finally witnessed a Barcelona side that seemed composed and determined. Despite the absence of Thiago, the dynamic duo, Messi and Alexis stole the show. It was a superb pass from Messi that found the Chilean striker merely six minutes into the game as Barça took the lead. With numerous shots from Alexis, perhaps his statement from last week rings true, “The best Alexis hasn’t arrived yet”. Add to that, swift and precise play by Jordi Alba and the Barça side saw a pretty smooth ride to victory against the Portuguese side. Unlike the previous match against Sevilla, Fàbregas refrained from simulation and instead handed Barcelona their second goal in the 55th.
The Barcelona back line seemed slightly more solid with the return of Captain, Carles Puyol, following his last injury, but another nasty tackle close to the 80th minute saw the Catalan back on a stretcher…exiting the field, again.
Barça Dirty Simulation Rears Its Ugly Head…Again
Despite the quality of FC Barcelona’s display against Sevilla, a shocking simulation by Cesc Fàbregas seemed to make just as many headlines as Villa’s spectacular goal. With twenty minutes left, it was what seemed to be a rather innocent confrontation between Cesc Fàbregas and Gary Medel that would lead to the only red card, and a Sevilla side reduced to 10 men. Upon replay, no one can deny that the ‘incident’ was clearly not one worth showing a red card, but quite simply over the top dramatics by Fàbregas. Reminiscent of the infamous ‘Busquets dirty dive’, one must wonder when someone will finally put an end to these ridiculous antics. Perhaps even more shocking was the fact that the referee in this match, Mateu Lahoz, one of Mourinho’s favorites since he barely blows for anything, found the incident worthy of such a punishment. Post-game, Fàbregas stated, “He touched my face with his forehead … if you like, I can do that to you and see what you think.”
It may be their city rivals, Real Madrid that most consider to be Barça’s biggest threat, but it seems that this time around, the Blaugranas may want to pay closer attention to the lesser notarized, Atletico Madrid. With star-striker, Falcao, the current goal leader in La Liga, who has had a spectacular start to the season, scoring 7 out of 16 goals during the squad’s first six matches of the season, the Colombian striker seems to be set for a stellar season, if his current form continues. Atletico Madrid, who are merely two points behind Barça in the La Liga standings are nipping at the heels of the Catalan giants. It was Falcao’s fantastic form thus far that led to Atletico Madrid’s President, Enrique Cerezo statement that “He (Falcao) is the best striker in the world… Nor would I want to swap Falcao for Messi or Cristiano, Falcao is the best”. Can Atletico Madrid continue their current form, and if so, may we be in store for a surprise contender this season?
“Catalonia Is Not Spain” – Political Tensions Rise Ahead of El Clásico
It is no secret that the rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is far more than an athletic one, but now, as the people of Catalonia continue to fight for their independence ahead of next month’s much anticipated election, political tensions from the other side of the world have been thrown into the mix. Mahmoud al-Sarsak, a former Palestinian footballer and former hunger striker, has stated that he will not accept an invitation to watch the El Clásico at the Nou Camp on Sunday. The statement followed news that former Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who spent five years in captivity in Gaza would also be attending the game. The FC Barcelona club representatives have clarified that they had not sent invites to either Shalit or al-Sarsak, but accepted request for them to attend this immense clash of Spanish powerhouses. At what point will politics remain in a political sphere without interrupting the ‘beautiful game’, or are the two truly inextricably linked?
Next Stop –El Clásico
“This is a big week for us”, Vilanova stated in a press conference prior to this Champions League fixture. This victory over Benfica may be just what the squad needed to keep spirits high as their next clash is against rivals, Real Madrid. This next meeting between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, one synonymous with dirty diving and antics may be Barça’s biggest challenge yet considering their injured backline, as well as the absence of Thiago. Can Tito find a way to surprise Mourinho and ‘Los Blancos’, or will Real Madrid put an end to Barcelona’s unbeaten streak?