El Centrocampista

Barcelona’s luck runs out as Celtic pull off special victory

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Photo: AP

With their 125th anniversary only 24 hours old, this wouldn’t have been any other tie for Celtic regardless of the result, but in taking three points from one of the strongest sides in world football, the Hoops ensured it would live on in their illustrious history. Barcelona, for their part, will put it down as a night to forget, though there are certainly lessons to be learned.

Barça’s initial tactical approach was clear: anticipating a defensive approach from the Scots, Vilanova seemed to have instructed his two wide forwards to come inside and create space for the forward runs of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba as much as possible in an effort to stretch the play. The problem was, Barcelona had no one willing to burst into the box to get on the end of any potential crosses, with Lionel Messi coming deep to receive the ball more often than not, so Celtic were happy to concede the space on the wings. At the same time, such lack of defensive concern on behalf of the Catalans meant a near flawless performance would be required by Alex Song in the midfield pivot position in order to prevent Celtic exposing the space left behind on the counter attack. In truth, Song’s display was anything but quality.

After picking up a petty booking early on, he was, by the end of the night, lucky not to be sent on the long walk on two occasions, with equally foolish fouls coming either side of the break. His struggles in the role both highlighted just how good Sergio Busquets is in the same position while at the same time bringing into question again his signing in the first place. If the former Arsenal man isn’t a competent reinforcement at centreback, nor as a midfield pivot, then what exactly does he bring to the fold? It’s easy to predict that slackness in the summer market could yet come back to haunt the Catalans, and while they’ve escaped from similarly poor windows in the past, this season looks particularly perilous.

Then there was the delay with which Tito Vilanova made his changes. After it was made clear the the Blaugrana would be reduced to shooting from distance with frequency, the withdrawal of Alexis for David Villa  should have occurred well before it did. El Guaje didn’t have one of his better nights in the end, but certainly has the more suitable skillset for causing damage to stubborn opposition, and could have done with more minutes on the pitch in order to help his team.

To talk only of Barcelona’s errors would be unjust to Celtic however. The Scots started the game with two clear out-balls in both Miku and Samaras, and after drawing first blood, only then did they retreat to the edge of their area. It wasn’t only good defensive work for the Hoops however – on the rare opportunities that they had the ball they made sure to use it quickly and efficiently, playing to their height advantage whenever possible.

Special mention has to go to three players in particular.  Charlie Mulgrew, whose excellent cross created the first goal, and who nearly scored the second, was composed on the ball when required. Likewise, young striker Tony Watt, scorer of the second, deserves his place in this chronicle. Only a year ago I watched Watt scoring against Barcelona’s Juvenil A side at Parkhead in the NextGen Series. Perhaps the Blaugrana should have paid more attention to the forward when he entered the fray.

The star performer was undoubtedly Fraser Forster. If not for the presence of Joe Hart then the Celtic keeper would surely be considered for a starting spot with England never mind a cap after this display. Whether it was coming out for a cross, organising his defence or getting hand after steady hand to Barcelona shots, the keeper was flawless.

Barcelona may point towards bad luck, and if so, then their luck certainly ran out, but there were clear errors, both in the  short and long term which led to this result. The lack of reaction on Vilanova’s behalf was particularly surprising considering he has made a habit of changing games with an astute adjustment. Above all, Barcelona should rue the fact that no lessons were learned from their first encounter with the Scottish side, where a similar outcome was a real possibility. Perhaps they are fortunate that the reminder has occurred now, and not in the knockout stage.

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