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Barcelona vs Celtic, 2016 Champions League: Key Battles, What to Look For

After the disappointing defeat to Alavés, Barca have a few key battles to win to bounce back against Celtic in the first group match of this season's Champions League.

Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The defeat to CD Alavés at the weekend was a huge disappointment. Rather than face a long week before again taking to the pitch, today's game against Celtic FC gives Luis Enrique and his men in Blaugrana a much-welcome chance to immediately bounce back with a win.

Celtic have become familiar opponents for Barcelona in the Champions League, which could be read as a good or bad thing. As tough and dogged as they come, Celtic will be confident of their chances of dealing Barça with a second consecutive defeat in a matter of days.

Dembélé, Sinclair & Forrest - pace on the counter

With pace out wide in the form of Scott Sinclair and James Forrest, Celtic will pose a threat on the counter. Sinclair will look to cut inward onto his favoured right foot and is a good finisher for a winger. Scotland international Forrest would seek to hit the byeline to deliver crosses into the box but is also comfortable at drifting inward to influence Celtic's build-up play. Moussa Dembélé has hit the ground running since joining from Fulham in the summer - 7 goals and 1 assist in 11 appearances, averaging a goal every 88 minutes. He might not be as well-known as his Belgian namesake, but the young Frenchman possesses bags of pace and is an adept finisher. Dembélé is full of confidence right now, having netted a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Rangers in the Old Firm Derby over the weekend. He will fancy his chances against a high-line Barça defence if he starts.

Midfield battle

As always, the midfield battle will be key in today's game. Celtic captain Scott Brown has been passed fit and will be a familiar adversary to Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta. Israel midfielder Nir Bitton provides the energy and legs to Celtic's midfield and would look to use those assets in transitions between defence and attack. Tom Rogic brings guile and technical ability - playing ahead of Brown and Bitton, the Australian will be a key lynchpin for Brendan Rodgers' side as they will look primarily to him to bring Sinclair, Forrest and Dembélé into the game with his passes.

How will Brendan Rodgers approach the game?

Brendan Rodgers would ideally want to set his team up to press high and play on the front foot. Whilst that has on occasion worked well against Barça, such as a 4-1 defeat to Celta de Vigo, Celtic do not possess the same technical ability or overall quality as that Nolito-led Celta side. If Rodgers tries to play with a high line, there is a good chance we will see an encore performance of the 6-1 thrashing of Roma in November 2015 - when then-Roma coach used a high defensive line. Rodgers has said that Celtic are "not here just to be passengers" - it is unlikely but perhaps he will take the risk and try to attack Barça.

Familiarity is key

Even the best teams lose every now and then, such is the world of sport. After the multitude of changes made to the starting XI against Alavés, today's game will see the return of the XI we are familiar with - with the exception of Jasper Cillessen making his Champions League debut for Barça in place of the injured Marc-André ter Stegen. The team will be without the German's world class ball distribution ability - I'd say he's the best goalkeeper in the world with the ball at his feet. This would definitely be a blow, given how important the goalkeeper is in the Barça system. Elsewhere, Samuel Umtiti could be useful in starting ahead of Mascherano. Umtiti's pace would be a useful tool against Celtic's counter-attacks. Overall, it should be (hopefully) back to the normalcy of fluid and dynamic football after the disjointed rotated XI we saw against Alavés.

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