After an absence of two seasons, Celtic return to the Champions League group stage tonight. They play undoubtedly their toughest game first, away to Barcelona.
The Catalan and Glaswegian club’s have praised each other over the years and are almost symbiotic in their respect for each other. In their twelve previous competitive encounters, Celtic have punched above their weight and to the applause of many of the Barcelonsitas.
Superstars such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and former midfield legend Xavi have all heaped praise upon key Celtic players, the fans and the atmosphere generated at Paradise. This isn’t something that I expect from Barca forever right enough.
In a time when they have been one of, if not the best team in the world, Celtic can be proud to have attracted attention, praise and gotten significant results against Blaugrana. I’m particularly proud that our club have found a connection with the all-conquering club.
On match day though none of this matters. Barca lead the way on head-to-heads.
Celtic fans do not have unreal expectations against such a potent football machine. Yet on a couple of occasions, the Hoops have defied the odds.
Is this Celtic side better than Martin O’Neill’s of 2003 or Neil Lennon’s of 2013 that both won at Celtic Park? If the game plan is good enough I don’t see why not but playing at Camp Nou is a different prospect.
Getting something out of games such as these can help you progress in Europe. For O’Neill and Lennon this has been the case.
However, the odds are stacked against Celtic and in most cases they have found themselves on the rough end of these fixtures. This must be taken into consideration, therefore the emphasis must be shifted primarily to home matches and Celtic’s other opponents.
This is where it gets even more interesting because with Manchester City providing opposition from pot 2, the task becomes much more difficult. With a former Barcelona player and manager at the helm along with a massive amount of money at his disposal, the odds begin to stack against Celtic.
Personally, I don’t mind because this is what you want: to see your team play in Europe against the best. One thing is for certain, Celtic will get a serious test against these two teams and their respective superstars.
So what of Borussia Mönchengladbach? Can the 4th placed Bundesliga side hurt Celtic just as much as Barca and City?
Well, I certainly wouldn’t take for granted that they are a pushover because of their final league standing. City also finished 4th and I’ll give them and German side the respect they each deserve.
Although Borussia and City played against each other in last season’s Champions League, they were polar opposites by the end of the group phase. Take what you want from that, but Celtic’s two-year absence, not to mention just how bad their last appearance in the group phase was three years ago, only goes to show how far off the pace the Hoops are these days.
This campaign is about re-establishing the club’s position in Europe’s premier competition. Financially the club cannot compete, but getting your name up in lights again brings good fortune and attention to Paradise.
The Hoops have never won at the Camp Nou and I don’t see that changing. The best offering they’ve had in six competitive away games are two draws.
However this match turns out you can be sure it will be the one Celtic have least chance of getting a result or a goal in. There is no embarrassments in that, merely realism.
At the end of the day, Celtic have nothing to lose on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see how Brendan Rodgers goes about his business for this one.
The dust has barely settled since Celtic put five past the Premiership new boys on Saturday. That was a good warm up for the Hoops but Tuesday will be a totally different game.
Leigh Griffiths has been ruled out of the game but captain Scott Brown has been passed fit for the Catalan encounter. Barcelona will dominate possession so for Celtic, it will be about defending, trying to break things up and most importantly remaining focussed for the entire match.
There will be a lot of tired legs in this match and substitutes will be key. Barcelona lost at home to Alaves at the weekend but don’t be fooled by this result.
When you are playing the best in Europe, you need to be on your guard and we will see a strong Barcelona tonight. I’m really excited to see how Celtic go about this one tonight.