Celtic will still be on a high following their 3-2 win over Spartak Moscow away from home in their last Champions League fixture. However, this is a completely different animal as they face, arguably, the most difficult challenge the competition offers as they have to go to Barcelona and try to get a result.
Parking the bus is a well used phrase in football but it has never been more relevant than this match. Celtic are simply not good enough to compete with Barcelona for the ball in the middle of the pitch. They have to sit back, sit deep, park the bus and try to steal something on the counter attack.
Barcelona have a one hundred per cent record so far in the competition and Moscow showed that their defence is vulnerable to fast counter attacks. There are going to be spells of this match where Celtic don’t see the ball for five to ten minutes at a time so it’s important for the leaders in the team to keep everyone motivated and to make sure that heads don’t drop if the side go behind very early on.
Celtic’s defence has to stay narrow because Barcelona try and feed their attacking players through small gaps in the opposition defence. They sometimes play the ball wide but this is rare when looking at the majority of their overall play. If Celtic can stay narrow then it will force Barcelona to have shots from outside the box which is far easier for the goalkeeper and defence to play with.
The midfield has to play in a similar way staying narrow and also making sure the gap between them and the defence is as small as possible. If there is a lot of space in between the two banks of four, then Barcelona have the players to exploit that space. They don’t need masses of time on the ball so if this gap is small then it means there will always be a Celtic player ready and free to close down.
In an attacking sense the strikers or striker will have to do a lot of holding up work while players break from the midfield to provide support. If Celtic can make sure this happens quickly then they will have a chance of stealing a goal because the Barcelona defence does not get a lot of help from the midfield. If the Barca defence is left exposed then Celtic can stretch that defence, make the space and hopefully create one or two chances which will enable them to get at least a draw.
Set pieces are also going to be very important for Celtic to get a result. Not only will they provide a chance to put the ball into the penalty area, they will also provide a chance for the pressure to be released from the defence. Therefore, it’s important for Celtic players to try and win free kicks and get set pieces on a regular basis.
Best of luck to the Scottish giants but it looks grim on the horizon.
image: © Will Palmer