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From the Mind of Xoel: Neymar Proves He Is Barça's Plan B

FC Barcelona got a bit of revenge on Tuesday night as Neymar and company defeated Celtic CF by a scoreline of 1-0 at Celtic Park. Cesc Fabregas' goal in the 76th minute was the difference as El Blaugrana are now alone atop Group H of the UEFA Champions League.

Richard Heathcote

Cesc Fabregas headed in the lone goal of the evening as FC Barcelona travelled back to face Celtic one year after Barça's defeat at the hands of the Scottish giants, and stayed perfect this season with a 1-0 victory at Celtic Park on Tuesday.

The first half had few moments of excitement, so let's move on to the second half.

In the second half, Barcelona continued to win ball possession, but no goals were coming from that. The game changed in the 60th minute as Neymar was taken down by Celtic captain Scott Brown as the Brazilian was attacking toward the goal. For some, the call was a bit too harsh. But referee Stephane Lannoy saw an expulsion-worthy foul, as it looked like Brown tried to kick Neymar when the forward was down.

With Celtic down to 10 men, Barcelona put more pressure on the home team. Alexis Sanchez came on for Pedro, who had a bad game overall. In the 73rd minute, Victor Valdes made a great save on a James Forrest shot that made VV stretch up high to hit it out for a corner kick. On the ensuing corner kick, Charlie Mulgrew nearly heading in a goal, but his header went just left of the post. Barcelona got on the scoreboard just three minutes later as Neymar started a quick counterattack. Neymar sent a through ball to Alexis, and the Chilean lobbed a pass to an open Cesc who headed the ball past Fraser Forster for the only goal of the game.

Barcelona remains perfect this competitive season.

Let's look at the Best, Worst, and What We Learned from this win.

The Best Interesting: Andres Iniesta, Cesc and Playing a "False 9" Under Tata

In my previous article, I mentioned that Cesc and Andres Iniesta would need to step up in creating goal-scoring opportunities for the Barcelona offense. Iniesta's dribbling skills were on display, and created opportunities. Cesc played the "False 9" that he's used to playing with the Spanish National Team. But with his style of play, Cesc shifts so much on the pitch, it gives other players like Neymar, Pedro or Alexis the opportunity to play the CF position. You could see that Neymar needed help (more on this later). While this wouldn't be ideal against all teams, Celtic is an opponent they could get away with doing this. Besides, it's not like they had too much of a choice with Lionel Messi out. I'm sure Tata Martino will work on the offensive structure of this team in time for Saturday's Liga game against Real Valladolid. After the game, Tata Martino said it was the team's most complete game. I like Tata's humility, but let's be honest, it was not a good performance. Even without Lionel Messi out, this team should have performed better. For me, the team didn't play the way Tata's style demands. For most of the game, this game looked similar to last year's game against Celtic. And that's not a good thing. There's much work to do. It wasn't pretty at Celtic Park, but it was enough.

The Worst Great to See: Marc Bartra Gaining Confidence

Last week, Marc Bartra had a great game against Almeria in Liga action. On Tuesday night, the kid had another partidazo as he cleared footballs away, covered Georgios Samaras well, and most importantly, gained confidence. Marc Bartra recovered 11 balls and did not lose any, according to Catalunya Radio. Bartra has played great in two straight games. I am happy for the kid, and I hope he continues to shine. Tata Martino will continue to go to him, with Javier Mascherano still out injured.

For me, I think Marc Bartra will need to be tested with a team that counterattacks well. I want Marc to gain more experience against those kinds of teams. Perhaps give the kid some playing time against Real Madrid later this month. If you remember last CL season, Bartra struggled tremendously against Bayern Munich. Then again, didn't all of FC Barcelona struggle against them?

Once again, great game from Marc Bartra. He's clearly gaining confidence and is earning even more respect from his opponents and even his teammates. Gerard Pique said it best when he said after the game, "Bartra can play at Barça for the next ten years."

What We Learned?: Neymar Can and Has To Be"Plan B"

Neymar was named Man of the Match for this game. The kid played well as "the man" for the FC Barcelona offense on the night. With Pedro having a poor game, and Cesc Fabregas moving back to midfield most of the time, it was all Neymar for the attack on offense. And he didn't do a bad job. Neymar was dynamic, engaged and frustrated the Celtic defense. Neymar had a part in the two biggest plays of the game: the red card on Scott Brown, and it was Neymar who sent a through ball to Alexis who then found Fabregas for the goal.

The Celtic fans continued to boo Neymar throughout the game, mainly because they felt Neymar was diving and after the Scott Brown red card, fans made it noisy whenever he got the ball. But Neymar could care less about those things. Neymar deserved to get a goal on the night, but good goalkeeping by Forster kept Neymar off the score sheet. Still, Neymar is effective anywhere on the offensive side of play.

While I am very satisfied with Neymar's performance, I can't help but imagine what kind of damage Neymar could do in the center of the offense-filling in for Lionel Messi while Leo is recovering from his injury. As I mentioned, Neymar was essentially trying to do it all on his own on offense. I'd ask Tata Martino to consider putting Neymar at the CF spot for the Valladolid game, with Cristian Tello at the LW spot and Alexis at RW (Pedro would rest). Cesc as the "False 9" is not a bad Plan B, but I feel Neymar at the CF spot has the potential to be better. Let's see what Neymar can do at the center of the attack. If he does well, cool. If he doesn't do well, then at least Tata tried to mix things up.

I'm not saying Neymar could replicate what Messi does one hundred percent, but I do think Neymar could give this club a new element in their tiki-Tata style of play.

It never hurts to have a "Plan B" or "Plan C", as many Culés have asked for this in recent years. Is Neymar that Plan B? He has to be. He's the most gifted young footballer in the world. We've all seen that he can lead a team to championships with what he did with Santos. He was the best player of the FIFA Confederations Cup this past summer. Plus, Sandro Rosell didn't spend all that money for him not to be the team's Plan B. There is no one in the world that can replace Lionel Messi whenever he's out. But in my opinion, there is no other player in the world that is better suited to temporarily fill-in King Leo's throne than Prince Neymar. He has the talent, skill, speed, and passion. Let's see how Neymar does as "the man." Besides, it helps the kid grow with the team, as one day the prince will take the reins at FC Barcelona once the king decides to step down.

What's Next?: Saturday vs. Real Valladolid

El Blaugrana will continue their Liga season this Saturday against Real Valladolid at the Camp Nou. Look for Tata Martino to switch things up with the starting XI. Alex Song may start at CDM to give Sergio Busquets rest. Martin Montoya should get the start at RB. Cristian Tello will start at LW if Tata decides to move Neymar to the CF spot. Could we see a Sergi Roberto sighting? Probably, but only as a substitute. While some players will get rest, Tata Martino will still send a strong lineup out to face Valladolid, as it is vital to go into the international break with a win and keep Altetico Madrid on their toes.

Xoel's Final Word

It wasn't pretty, but FC Barcelona left Scotland with three points on Tuesday night as Barça defeated Celtic by 1-0. Neymar carried the offense, Bartra gained confidence, and Cesc Fabregas headed in the winner that put Tata Martino's club atop Group H of the Champions League.

Much respect to Celtic CF and their great fans.

Focus goes back to La Liga, as Real Valladolid comes to the Camp Nou on Saturday. Valladolid may not be the strongest of teams, but that doesn't mean Barcelona can or will allow themselves to relax too much.

Let's get this win on Saturday, boys, and go into the FIFA international break still on top of La Liga.


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