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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