Celtic: We Can Beat Defensively Wobbly Barcelona On The Counter Attack

Celtic's performance in the Camp Nou cauldron was heroic, but ultimately resulted in no points for the Celts' Champions League cause. Here's 5 lessons things we learnt from the galling defeat that can help us in Celtic Park...
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Celtic's performance in the Camp Nou cauldron was heroic, but ultimately resulted in no points for the Celts' Champions League cause. Here's 5 lessons things we learnt from the galling defeat that can help us in Celtic Park...

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Celtic: We Can Beat Barcelona On The Counter Attack

Celtic acquitted themselves with honour at Camp Nou a fortnight ago, with manager and fans united in their plaudits for the performance and their heartbreak at losing with the last kick of the ball. Ultimately though, no points were put on the board and now they have to do it all over again as the Catalan giants come knocking at the gates of Celtic Park. It’s a massive game – for all that the ties against Benfica and Spartak Moscow might be more important in terms of qualifying, a positive result on Wednesday night would put the Hoops in the driving seat for second place. It’s a huge task against a team rightly regarded as one of the best ever. Not only that, but Barcelona are the only team ever to have won a Champions League match at Parkhead. Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan and others have tried and failed. Neil Lennon’s troops must find a way to keep out a side who have proved they can breach Fortress Parkhead. If they are to do so, they have to learn the lessons of two weeks ago, so here are the top 5 things we learned from Camp Nou.

Composure And Concentration Are Key

Barcelona will probably record one the highest possession statistics of any team visiting the east end of Glasgow and Celtic need to be switched on from the first whistle to the last - goals conceded in the dying minutes of both halves last time tell their own story. Equally, Celtic must try and boss the game to whatever extent they can and they simply have to force the play for sections of the match in the Barca half. Composure and cool heads are key here, and this has been the Hoops’ achilles heel in Europe in recent years. They’ve often been nervy and panicky, losing possession and dropping clangers. They’ve looked much more assured and confident this season but the warning signs were there in Camp Nou and the team have to be composed with and without the ball. Otherwise, it’ll be like taking sweeties off a baby for Tito Villanova’s team.

Messi Can Be Contained

Sorry Cristiano, but there’s no doubt that Lionel Messi is the best in the business right now. However, he’s not Superman and Celtic proved at Camp Nou that he’s not unplayable. In fact, through the diligence, savvy and downright inspiration of Efe Ambrose and Victor Wanyama, he was more or less snuffed out of events entirely. The Hoops need to take inspiration from that and do the same again at Celtic Park. Messi can be contained. Whether he can be contained twice is another matter - Celtic fans are praying that he can.

Barca’s Defence Is Wobbly

Defence has never been the number one priority for Barca. It isn’t a big part of their strategy or their signing policy. They’d rather play a teenager or a midfielder out of position than spend on defensive cover. It’s an admirable philosophy, referencing as it does the ‘total football’ ethos of the Dutch sides in the 1970s where everyone was interchangeable and positions were fluid. However, with Abidal out long-term and Puyol and Pique dogged by injury, frailties at the back have been exposed. It’s likely to be another makeshift back four at Parkhead and Celtic have to try and exploit that. If Commons starts, he can run at them and if Hooper gets the right kind of service there’s no reason why he can’t play the way he did in Moscow.

You Can’t Defend For The Whole Game

Well maybe you can if you’re Chelsea, but their current defence cost more than the last three incarnations of Celtic squads put together. And besides, who the hell wants to play like Chelsea? For the rest of us, sitting too deep against the tiki-taka kings is suicide. Granted, you don’t always have a choice, but there was a glorious if all too brief period in the first half in Barcelona when Celtic had them frightened. The Catalans still had most of the possession but, high on confidence after the opening goal, Celtic looked sharp and positive on the counter-attack. It didn’t necessarily go anywhere but it gave Barca something to think about and took the pressure off.  As Barcelona got the bit between their teeth, Lennon’s men were driven increasingly deep and, for all that it was a heroic performance, a reported 18% possession is not going to win games. The last tie showed that backs-to-the-wall stuff probably won’t get a result. Celtic need to get out. How? Well, read on …

You Have To Know Your Out Ball

When Georgios Samaras had to be taken off in the first game, a key part of Celtic’s European strategy was done for. The game-plan was: play it to the big Greek’s feet and watch him meander up the left wing, allowing the defence to move out and giving everyone a breather. When he went off, Celtic kept trying to play the same way but with Gary Hooper as the out ball. It’s a waste of Hooper’s talent to play that way. He’s the master of playing on the shoulder of the centre halves and it would have made more sense to knock balls in behind the Barca defence and let him run onto them, especially since they lack height at the back. The team needs to play to the strengths of whoever starts up front and make sure they get that out ball right.

Follow @johnclarke1 on Twitter

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