FC Barcelona will be looking to end the UEFA Champions League group stage in style tomorrow by securing a win in their final fixture against Celtic FC. Thanks to the result of Barcelona's previous group stage fixture, the Scottish champions are now guaranteed to finish rooted to the bottom of Group H, but that doesn't mean that they won't be playing for pride at the Camp Nou on Wednesday evening.
Barcelona on the other hand actually still need to secure a result if they are to guarantee top spot -- crucial if Gerardo Martino wishes to avoid Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. With that in mind, the Argentine tactician has named a strong 20-man squad for tomorrow's clash -- will this be enough to see off the challenge of what's likely to be a resolute Celtic defense?
After all, while Cristian Tello, Andres Iniesta and Xavi all return to the fold after recovering from their respective injuries, the Blaugrana will still be without top-scorer Lionel Messi and important full-back Dani Alves, both of whom add another dimension to the Barça attack. Messi's usual substitute Cesc Fabregas also misses out through suspension, leaving Martino somewhat short of options in the centre of attack -- does he throw Jean-Marie Dongou in at the deep end, or does he place his faith in the somewhat misfiring Neymar?
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Victor Valdes remains sidelined through injury, although in truth, it's unlikely that he would have featured in this match anyway. With progression secured, Jose Manuel Pinto would have, and indeed will start in goal tomorrow -- undoubtedly aiming to keep his second clean sheet of the campaign.
Of course, he cannot do it alone; will he get much support from the Barcelona defense? Usually I would predict a rotated backline, but after resting the regulars against Cartagena, Martino may be leaning towards starting the likes of Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano tomorrow. If that's the case, I wouldn't expect to see Jordi Alba in anything other than a second half cameo -- instead Martin Montoya and Adriano Correia will likely start on either side of defense.
Sergio Busquets is odds-on to continue at pivote, although may be rested in favour of Alex Song while Barcelona's midfield is a little tougher to predict given recent developments. Both Xavi and Andres Iniesta are only just returning from injury -- so logic hints that only one will get the nod tomorrow. But with Fabregas injured, that leaves us with just Sergi Roberto and, if he isn't required at pivote, Alex Song. We would all love to see the former given another start, but it seems unlikely based on the season so far. The less said about the latter, the better. With all this in mind, I expect to see either Busquets alongside Iniesta and Roberto, or Song alongside Iniesta and Xavi.
Moving onto the Barça attack, Martino today admitted that Neymar is the most logical option for the currently vacant false nine berth, but since when did football and logic go hand in hand? It'd be great to see, but I'd be just as happy to see either Alexis Sanchez or Jean-Marie Dongou occupy that position. Cristian Tello will probably have to settle for a place on the bench in his return, leaving Alexis, Neymar and Pedro to lead the frontline.
Captain Scott Brown is likely to return to the fold after serving the final match of his three-game suspension against AC Milan in the previous matchday – where Neil Lennon’s side capitulated against the Rossoneri to end their European campaign. Aside from that, little is known about Lennon’s likely selection – although we can probably assume a similar line-up to the last time these two sides met.
Celtic FC 0-1 FC Barcelona -- 1st October 2013 -- UEFA Champions League
A late second-half header from Cesc Fabregas was enough to secure the three points for the Blaugrana after the hosts were reduced to 10 men following Scott Brown's ludicrous kick on Neymar.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Montoya, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Song, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Neymar, Pedro
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Forster; Lustig, Ambrose, van Dijk; Mulgrew; Brown, Kayal; Commons, Stokes, Izaguirre; Samaras
Barcelona may not be in the greatest form, but will enough to see off the threat of this relatively tame Celtic outfit. I'm going for a 2-1 home win.
- FC Barcelona News: 10 December 2013; 20 in Squad for Celtic Game, Lionel Messi Named Finalist for Ballon d'Or
- Barcelona Loanee Gerard Deulofeu's Future Remains Uncertain As He Scores for Everton Against Arsenal
- Copa del Rey: FC Barcelona 4-1 FC Cartagena: Player Ratings
- FC Barcelona News: 9 December 2013; Xavi, Iniesta and Tello Return to Training, Everton Could Extend Deulofeu Stay
- FC Barcelona News: 8 December 2013; Barça B Record Rare Home Victory, Real Madrid Held in Copa del Rey