CELTIC 0-1 BARCELONA (CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP B)
A Cesc Fabregas header saw Barcelona to a deserved three points against a determined ten man Celtic in front of a raucous and partisan crowd at Celtic Park.
The biggest team news came from the Barcelona camp with reigning World Player of the Year Lionel Messi ruled out through injury. He was one of two changes to the side that beat Almeria in the league with Alexis Sánchez dropping to the bench as Neymar and Xavi came in to the starting line up. Celtic made just one change from the victory at Kilmarnock with Finnish striker Teemu Pukki being replaced by Swedish full back Mikael Lustig.
As kick off approached, Celtic Park became a massive wall of noise and tried to scare the Spanish visitors. However, Barca were far too experienced for that and only a last ditch tackle from Virgil van Dijk on Andres Iniesta stopped the Spaniard getting in on goal early on. Celtic too tried to get in behind but Kris Commons’ ball to Georgios Samaras was a little too hard and the angle was too much for the Greek striker.
Neither side was able to truly create any clear cut chances even despite Barcelona’s expected dominance of possession. The best they could muster was some poor attempts from range by Iniesta and Neymar. It would be 26 minutes before Barcelona really got in behind Celtic.
Captain Xavi played a switch ball over to the left side which full back Adriano left to continue his run forward. Countryman Neymar instinctively lifted the ball over the Celtic defence for him but Adriano could only hit his shot into the side netting at the near post under pressure from Efe Ambrose.
Celtic were holding firm but, as half time approached, they found themselves under more intense pressure. Neymar could only steer a Dani Alves cross from the right wide of Fraser Forster’s post before he won a free kick from Lustig in a dangerous position. The full back was booked and it almost got worse as Xavi whipped the ball in and Forster had to get something on it to prevent Neymar from getting an easy chance.
The second half began in much the same pattern as the first – Barcelona string many passes together, Celtic clear and the cycle repeats. Yet, as the Spanish side continued to struggle to break down the home team, Celtic grew in confidence. They began to hustle and harry Barca players higher up the pitch and the crowd was starting to stir. Yet this growing confidence helped to contribute to the big turning point.
Neymar broke clear on the left and was tracked by Celtic captain Scott Brown. The Scottish midfielder pushed over the Brazilian but as his momentum continued he kicked out a little at the Brazilian (who by that point had begun to annoy the crowd and players with his diving). There was minimal contact but Neymar rolled around like he had been viciously attacked with a baseball bat. French referee Stéphane Lannoy took his time before issuing a red card. It was the correct decision as well as being a moment of sheer stupidity from the Celtic captain. It also gave Barcelona some added confidence.
Soon after Barcelona began to create clearer cut chances for themselves thanks to the man advantage. Marc Bartra had a tame shot from range while Cesc Fabregas’ cross shot was easy enough for the giant keeper. The universally loathed Neymar managed to work some space with Xavi in the box but – to the sheer delight of all Celtic fans – fired miles wide. These misses almost proved costly.
The ball fell to Celtic substitute James Forrest who controlled the bouncing ball before unleashing a half volley at goal from the edge of the area. It needed a good stop from Victor Valdes to turn it over. However, the scares didn’t end there for the visitors as a Commons corner caught Valdes in no mans land and the keeper was relieved to see Charlie Mulgrew’s header bounce just wide. Celtic’s confidence was on the rise again but, just like last time, it would be destroyed quickly.
Barcelona broke with Neymar who drove at the Celtic defence before playing it to substitute Alexis Sánchez on the right of the Celtic box. The Chilean picked his head up and floated a lovely ball to the back post for Fabregas. The former Arsenal man was off balance but placed his header back across Forster and into the bottom corner. Celtic Park was silenced but the delight was clear from Barcelona. It was a reminder of how dangerous they are even without the mercurial talents of Lionel Messi.
Celtic continued to push for an equaliser but Barcelona simply kept the ball and let Celtic frustrations mount. It almost led to a goal too. Iniesta tried to slip a ball inside full back Adam Matthews who stopped it on the slide. However, Ambrose inexplicably set up Neymar on the edge of the area and the Brazilian forced a smart save for Forster. The keeper could only parry it out to the left side of his six yard box where Sánchez was waiting yet the Chilean was stopped by a fantastic second save from Forster to turn it behind. It was amazing goalkeeping by the Englishman.
And Forster had to be at his best in the first minute of stoppage time. Sánchez (who looked sharp when he came on) went past a couple on the right before playing a lovely through ball to Neymar. The Brazilian was one on one with Forster and shot early but the giant keeper got down quickly to stop it. It was a great piece of keeping and also proved to be the last chance of the game.
Celtic will be happy with the fight and determination as well as the defensive performance but they offered very little going forward with Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons anonymous. Barcelona will just be pleased for the win at a tough place. Both teams have big games in the next round of matches in Group H.
Celtic: Forster, Lustig (Forrest 70), Ambrose, van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown (c), Mulgrew, Matthews, Commons (Pukki 86), Stokes (Kayal 70), Samaras
Subs: Zaluska, Rogic, Baldé, Biton
Yellow: Lustig, Samaras, Izaguirre
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Bartra, Pique, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi (c), Pedro (Sánchez 74), Iniesta (Song 89), Fabregas (Tello 78), Neymar
Subs: Pinto, Montoya, dos Santos, Sergi
Yellow: Fabregas, Busquets, Sánchez
MAN OF THE MATCH: ANDRES INIESTA (BARCELONA)