FC Barcelona will be looking to avenge last season's shock defeat when they travel to Scotland tomorrow to face reigning SPL champions Celtic FC at Celtic Park. The unfashionable British club, managed by an unfashionable coach, Neil Lennon sent shockwaves through the football world last season with a famous 2-1 victory over their illustrious visitors -- and are quietly confident that they can replicate that success tomorrow.
After all, the Blaugrana will be without key defenders Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba, while offensive mastermind Lionel Messi is also sidelined after the Argentine virtuoso picked up a thigh injury in the club's 2-0 win over Almeria on Saturday evening.
Despite being struck down by a string of injuries, Barcelona are still overwhelming favourites for tomorrow's clash -- remember, they are yet to experience defeat under Gerardo Martino. So yeah, Messi is injured but Neymar is not. And nor is Cesc Fabregas. Javier Mascherano may be sidlined but Marc Bartra looks to be turning a corner. In every cloud there is a sliver lining and in every crisis there is an opportunity.
Carpe diem baby...
Lionel Messi drops out of the squad with an injury but Martino has bolstered his squad by calling up two B team players, Sergi Gomez and Patric. The duo might not be expected to feature, but if I were them, I would be relishing the chance to escape Eusebio and train under a "real" coach. Aside from those changes, it's as you were for Martino's matchday squad.
Therefore, expect to see a similar starting line-up from Barca. Victor Valdes will start in goal hoping to claim yet another clean sheet and he'll be hoping for some better support from the defense. Gerard Pique has been struggling as of late, but will start again tomorrow, while similar can be said of Dani Alves, even if the Brazilian has contributed a goal or two this season. Adriano hasn't entirely impressed since replacing Jordi Alba in defense, although he hasn't put much of a foot wrong either.
Marc Bartra should complete the defense, as he hopes to build upon his Man of the Match performance against Almeria with another good display against Celtic.
Sergio Busquets will start at pivote, while Xavi and Andres Iniesta occupy the two central midfield berths -- thanks to Messi's injury, it's unlikely that we will see Fabregas in midfield for the next two or three weeks. Sergi Roberto is good, but nowhere near ready enough for a game like this; leaving Xavi and Iniesta as the only two viable options.
I mentioned it briefly earlier but to reiterate, Cesc Fabregas will probably occupy the false nine role in Messi's absence. Unless Martino has a change of heart and experiments with either Alexis Sanchez or Neymar in the centre of attack. In my mind, neither are suited for the role, but Fabregas is hardly an archetypal false nine either. Sanchez and Neymar are great wingers though, which is almost certainly where they will start tomorrow's game.
Midfielder Joe Ledley has been ruled out and Dutch winger Derk Boerrigter is a doubt for a Celtic side who have won just two of their last four matches. More positively for the hosts, tricky attacking midfielder James Forrest and Israeli holding midfielder Beram Kayal both resumed full training today and could make a surprise appearance tomorrow.
Celtic FC 2-1 FC Barcelona -- 7th November 2012 -- UEFA Champions League
Tony Watt's late winner sent the home crowd delirious with joy as Neil Lennon's side put in a performance for the ages to defeat the mighty Blaugrana.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Bartra, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Fabregas, Neymar
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Forster; Izaguirre, Ambrose, Lustig, Mulgrew; Kayal, Matthews; Brown, Commons, Samaras; Stokes
It's going to be a tough game, especially without Lionel Messi to bail us out...but I have faith in Martino's leadership skills, not to mention the fact that Celtic are worse off compared to a season ago. A hard-fought 3-1 win for me.