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FC Barcelona's Next La Liga Opponent: Jornada 10 – RC Celta De Vigo Scouting Report & Key Battles

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Hello and welcome to the scouting report and key battles weekly column! This week’s edition of Ahmed’s analysis will take a closer look at Celta's transfers, form, strategy, a few things you (probably) didn't know about the club, predicted line-up and key battles.

Denis Doyle

Celta's Cat of Catoira said: "I held on as long as I could." Sergio Álvarez Conde was talking about the moment It was the 88th minute of the Galician derby, Celta de Vigo versus Deportivo de La Coruña, and it was coming up to midnight on Tuesday night. Sergio stood just outside his six yard area, pointing at the ball on the penalty spot. He then nods his head in acknowledgement a few times whilst walking backwards towards the goal line at Balaídos, staring at the ball on the penalty spot, mentally going over his study notes. Behind it stood Haris Medunjanin. Celta led 2-1. They had been two minutes from a huge victory, one they needed, but now it seemed they were about to be denied. Sergio waited. He didn't go early, he didn't move. He held on. He looked for ahead, stared into the abyss.  And then, suddenly, he flew left and pushed the powerful penalty past the post.

Sid Lowe writes: Born in Catoira, 60 kilometres north of Vigo, a Celta fan and galego speaker, Sergio joined the club at the age of 13 and played at every level. Well, almost every level. At 5ft 10in, originally told that he was too small - to which he responded "I'll have to jump higher, then" - he was captain of Celta B but the first team mostly resisted. Pinto, Quintana, Esteban, Notario, Falcón, Varas, Yoel ... all of them played ahead of him; he watched new goalkeepers come and go while he waited. He was patient and confident in his abilities. He knew, or rather hoped his time would come. He was told to look for another club but didn't want to: he'd enjoy playing in the second team instead. At least it was his team."

Sid Lowe of The Guardian writes: "It wasn't a great night for a party, in truth. Some took to calling it the clásico but playing on a Tuesday night, Week 5 wedged in between Week 4 and Week 6 with no buffer, 10 days of games in a row, denied it the buildup that sets a derby apart, while a 10 o'clock kick-off prevented lots of fans from going and even denied it a match report in some of the morning papers. And even the Galician versions of the country's sports dailies led instead on Cristiano Ronaldo. The Deportivo fans who travelled the 160km numbered in the high hundreds, and around 6,000 seats sat empty. Given the circumstances, both were considered good figures."

He continues: "Yet it was still a party, still a Galician derby: intense and noisy, and with a dramatic ending, the 24,000 there shouting and singing their heads off, players stuck on fast-forward, nerves frayed and hearts racing, both managers admitting that at times it all happened too quickly for their own good. For everyone else, it had been pretty good fun."

"A great derby, yes sir," declared AS. "Long Live the Derby!" cheered Marca. On the Deportivo bench was Víctor Fernández, the man who has taken charge of more First Division games for Celta that anyone else. "It was an extraordinarily intense and exciting derby," he said. "But derbies are games you have to win. Sergio was their hero."

"I'm delighted to see the fans celebrating. Now we can say that we own Galicia," said Celta's manager, Eduardo Berizzo, who played under Fernández at Balaídos. "It wasn't easy. And the last-minute penalty gave it a special drama, made for clásicos." Asked if it was even harder to watch a derby than play in it, he replied, puffing out his cheeks: "I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."

It was about time Celta Vigo beat Deportivo. Everyone has seen that Celta have been the better team for quite some time now, but proof was needed in the form of this Galician derby. Celta Vigo were the form team and deserved the win. They were all over them like a rash and didn't allow Deportivo to settle. Even though Celta Vigo hadn't beaten them in years, there was something familiar about it; something routine. The intensity and pressure that Celta applied with Berizzo at the helm was immense. It is no surprise considering he is a Marcelo Bielsa disciple. Similar to with Luis Enrique last season, but if anything, the intensity has increased. Celta are a threat to be reckoned with. All eyes will be on the two managers with Luis Enrique being up against his former team. He had a productive albeit short-lived season at the Balaídos. There is no doubt that he left his mark on Celta Vigo.

He opted for a brave and offensive style whilst at the same time putting his faith in young players; a team full of youth products. And it worked wonders. Celta are now slowly getting back to somewhere near their level of about a decade ago (1997-2003). They are a tireless team with a passion for controlling games, similarities with Barcelona a plenty. Most definitely one of the most underrated teams in La Liga.

Celta ended up out-passing, out-classing and out-thinking Deportivo and the scoreline flattered the latter, yet at the same time it could easily have ended as a draw. As Sid Lowe put it: "Depor got the equaliser, scored by Isaac Cuenca. And although Celta took the lead again 20 minutes later when Joaquín Larrivey, outstanding all game, thumped in a header and, although he had another chance to make it 3-1, Depor came at them. With every passing minute, Sidnei became less a centre-back and more a playmaker, driving Depor on from deep, piling forward like a one-man stampede until a penalty was won for a handball by Rafael Cabral. The clock said 88 minutes and Medunjanin picked up the ball to take the penalty. In front of him, Sergio stood waiting."

All this derby talk brings about an interesting question, if you could pick one derby to go and watch in Spanish football, which would it be? Would it be the Seville, Galician, Catalan, Basque or Madrid derby? It's an interesting question that's difficult to answer.

Celta are now in sixth place with a massive 8 points ahead of their great rivals Deportivo, and only 4-6 points behind the five teams challenging for the title and champions league positions. They also boast Celta's Cat of Catoira. This is a good time to be a Celta fan.

Transfers

Celta Vigo have had a pretty standard transfer window with about a handful of players coming in and going out. All of which makes their early season form even more remarkable.

They have invested in Pablo Hernández from O'Higgins for £1,41 million and Nemanja Radoja from Vojvodina for £792,000. They have also brought in two signings on a free, namely, Joaquín Larrivey and Gustavo Cabral from Rayo Vallecano and Arsenal de Sarandí (Argentina) respectively. 

Celta Vigo also brought in Carles Planas and Sergi Gómez from Barcelona B, as well as promoting Ruben Blanco from Celta Vigo B.

Celta Vigo have sold Jota to Brentford for £1,32 million in their only transfer sale of the summer. Jonathan Vila and Cristian Bustos both left on a free to Real Oviedo and RCD Mallorca respectively. Samuel Llorca was loaned to Real Valladolid and Yoel Rodríguez to Valencia CF. Further to this, Mario Bermejo retired at the age of 35. 

A few important players from last season have returned to their respective clubs after the end of their loans. This includes the vital Rafinha to FC Barcelona, Jon Aurtenetxe to Athletic Bilbao, Iñigo López to PAOK and Welliton to Spartak Moscow.

Form

Celta Vigo's start to the season can only be described as great without being fantastic. They are in sixth position and have performed very well recently with the exception of a deserved home loss against Villarreal CF. Yet Celta have won as many matches as they have lost (four) and this will be a concern.

Strategy

Luis Enrique preferred the 4-3-3 last season (when they comfortably finished in the top ten), it is therefore no surprise that Celta Vigo's new manager, Eduardo Berizzo, has decided to continue with it. 

Celta will be forced to play without the ball far more than they like due to Barcelona's unmatched ball retention abilities. It will take an enormous effort from all the players and great inspiration to match Barcelona at their own game, in their own backyard, not to mention it will take great accuracy and finishing in front of goal, which has been Celta's Achilles heel this season. They have scored many goals but could easily have scored more.

A Few Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Celta De Vigo

Libero Guide writes: "The bustling fishing port of Vigo harbours a club who have spent most of the last 70 years in the top flight: Celta Vigo. Formed 90 years ago, the regional rivals to Deportivo La Coruña came back from near bankruptcy and relegation in the mid-1990s to six seasons of top-six finishes and a debut appearance in the Champions League. Memorable European nights included wins over Liverpool, Aston Villa, Benfica and Juventus."

"Los Celestes (‘The Sky Blues') have since fallen back but held on - just - to top-flight status in 2013. Celta were formed in 1923 by a merger of Vigo Sporting and Fortuna de Vigo, an idea mooted by local sports journalist Manuel de Castro. Although de Castro never lived to see his club reach the first division in 1939, he did see Os Célticos play at the stadium they still occupy today, Estadio Balaídos, beside the Rego Lagares river."

It continues: "The club's first hero was Vigo-born Pahiño, who helped Celta to a record fourth-placed finish in 1948, when he was top league scorer, the emblematic Pichichi. Both he and Celta team-mate Miguel Muñoz made the cup final that year with Celta, both going on to play for Spain - and Real Madrid. This proved to be their best post-war season until recent times - Celta's modest successes could be counted in derby wins over Deportivo La Coruña."

Mark Houston of The Blog FC writes: "Galicia is sometimes referred to as the region that Spain forgot. Despite it being the home of General Francisco Franco, before the former fascist ruler of Spain through 1939 to 1975 relocated to the capital after seizing power, it was somewhat neglected throughout that era, and is rather different to the rest of the country. Franco's regime even banned the traditional Galician language, which has since been restored as the official language of the "Land of 1,000 Rivers", but there is still a stigma attached to the language and the working class Galicians who speak it."

"Often, we think of the sun-drenched beaches of San Sebastian, the beautiful architecture of Barcelona, or the hustle and bustle of Madrid. The Galician region of Spain is different. Surrounded by the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death), it is an area of Spain where it rains for more days every year than it doesn't and thus gives off the vibe of a strange, Latin area of rural Ireland. Rolling green hills line the countryside as you drive through - rather than the course, harsh terrain that surrounds on the journey from the capital to Catalonia - and large cliffs meet dangerous seas; couple that with the Celtic background and there is a strong connection to the British Isles."

He continues: "The architecture is different too - and this is where it feels like the "forgotten" region - with the infrastructure modest and old-style country housing along the hill-line, in stark contrast to the major cities to the east. The west of the region is heavily dependent on its fishing industry; the east on agriculture. The mountainous areas isolate the towns, giving a feeling like you're going back in time."

"You could call it a poor area and the teams reflect that. Celta are in administration while Deportivo are in torrid financial shape thanks to some bad (read: greedy) management of the club; and while they bounced straight back from the Segunda it must feel like an age ago that they were controversially dumped out of the Champions League semi-finals by Jose Mourinho's Porto."


Predicted Line-up

The Cat of Catoira, Sergio Álvarez Conde, will start in goal. Hugo Mallo will start as the right back and captain Cabral at centre-back. The other centre-back position is less certain. It will be between Andreu Fontas and Sergi Gomez. Jonny is certain to start at left-back with Carles Planas out injured until mid-November. 

Michael Krohn-Dehli, Nemanja Radoja and Alex Lopez are expected to start as the midfield trio, but Pablo Hernandez could very well start in place of Alex Lopez. 

Fabian Orellana, Joaquin Larrivey and Nolito should all start in attack unless Eduardo Berizzo decides on a more defensive outlook. The trio have been nothing short of phenomenal so far this season. It is as Adam Matvya of SB Nation's Barca Blaugranes described it: "The most under-appreciated attack in Spain."

Possible XI (4-3-3): Álvarez; Mallo, Cabral, Fontas, Jonny; Krohn-Dehli, Radoja, Lopez; Orellana, Larrivey, Nolito

Key Battles

With the fact that team battles are more pertinent, this week's edition will focus on team battles.

Intense pressing v Intense pressing: This could be the key battle in this match. Both teams are known for playing with high-intensity and intense pressing. The problem tends to be that the teams have in recent games tired towards the end of their respective matches. This was best shown with Barcelona against Real Madrid and Celta against Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal and Deportivo.

Ability to break down v A compact defence: Barcelona will attack with Messi, Neymar and Suarez at home from the start and it will be interesting to see how they fare against Celta Vigo's collective and compact defence.  

Counter-attack v High defensive line: Celta's counter-attack is relentless at times. If Barcelona concede the types of positions and chances they did against SD Eibar, make no mistake about it, the likes of Larrivey and Nolito will take full advantage of it. I expect Mathieu to play on the left-side of centre-back; he and his centre-back partner will need to be focussed and stay concentrated at all times. Celta's attacking trio will worry the defense with their pace, physicality and goalscoring ability. 

Set-pieces v Set-pieces:
How will the two teams fare in set-pieces?

Final Thoughts

Celta have conceded three on each of their last three trips to the Camp Nou. Barca won both matches 3-0 last season. Yet I don't think it will be so easy this time round. It should be a closely fought and contested battle. I expect Barcelona to win but I think they'll also concede. Celta Vigo have scored in all their league games so far this season, and I'd probably expect that promising streak to continue. I predict a 2-1 win.

There is a lot to respect about Celta Vigo. I therefore wish them the best of luck for the rest of the season.

Thank you for reading, take care and goodbye until next time!