Match Reviews

UEFA Champions League: Celtic 2-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

FC Barcelona slumped to a surprise defeat in Scotland as Celtic defied the odds to emerge victorious against their illustrious visitors. Celtic took the lead with 21 minutes on the clock as Victor Wanyama powered home Charlie Mulgrew’s corner and they doubled their advantage with 83 minutes played as eighteen year-old Tony Watt raced through to score on the counter after a mistake from Xavi. Lionel Messi pulled one back for the Blaugrana, but it was too little too late as Barca succumbed to just their second defeat under Tito Vilanova.






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Tito Vilanova made four changes from the team that defeated Celta Vigo 3-1 on Saturday, as Adriano Correia, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas and David Villa all made way for various reasons with Dani Alves, Marc Bartra, Alex Song and Alexis Sanchez taking their place in the starting XI. After performing so well in the corresponding fixture at the Camp Nou, it was nice to see Tito stick with Bartra alongside Javier Mascherano although the omission of David Villa raised some eyebrows.

Barca started well, immediately settling into possession despite the best efforts of the home crowd who were jeering and whistling Barcelona’s every move. However, it was going to take more than a bit of noise to knock Xavi and company off their game. Alexis Sanchez was the first to direct an effort towards goal, although the first real chance of the match fell to Lionel Messi as the Catalans pushed the tempo in Celtic’s defensive third. Unfortunately, Messi’s finish wasn’t up to the standard we have come to expect as the Argentine blazed his first-time shot well over the bar.

Despite the intricate build-up play and despite the wealth of possession, it was actually Celtic who were looking the better side. They were defending well – again – threatening on the counter-attack and most importantly of all, Celtic were causing panic in the Barcelona defense. Whenever they ventured forward, the Catalan defense looked anxious thanks in part to the yellow card Alex Song received after a fairly innocuous challenge. With (the only member of) their first-line of defense hindered by a yellow card, it was almost as though Celtic were running directly at the heart of the Barcelona defense with every counter. Factor in their strength at set pieces and it wasn’t long before the Blaugrana fell behind – just like they did two weeks ago at the Camp Nou.

Unsurprisingly, the hosts made their breakthrough with a goal created by a set-piece as Charlie Mulgrew’s corner was turned in at the back-post by Victor Wanyama. It was an excellent header from the Kenyan who obviously faced no opposition from Jordi Alba, although why was the diminutive Spaniard marking Wanyama anyway? It was a total mismatch and no-one can fault Celtic for taking advantage.

As one might expect, the goal didn’t faze the Blaugrana who continued in their usual style and although the hosts often kept nine or ten players behind the ball, Celtic’s defense was by no means an impenetrable force. On the contrary, after falling a goal behind Barcelona created three decent chances to level the score before the interval. Lionel Messi (who else?) was the first to try his hand, striking the bar with a powerful shot from the edge of the area after Andrés Iniesta’s incisive pass. It’s possible that Fraser Forster got his fingertips to that shot although Barcelona’s official website did not count that particular effort as a shot on target. Alexis Sanchez hit the post with a header and Jordi Alba could have been credited with an assist if anyone had taken a gamble on his low cross which was begging to be turned in. Heading into the break though it was Celtic, not Barcelona who were leading at Parkhead.

Neither manager made a change at the break in personnel or in terms of tactics, so Barcelona pressed forward in search of an equaliser while Celtic were happy to drop deep, absorb pressure and hit on the counter if and when they got an opportunity. For the most part though, Barcelona denied them that chance, as the Blaugrana penned the Hoops back into their own area and laid siege to Fraser Forster’s goal. Once again, Messi was at the forefront of everything vaguely dangerous as he saw a curling shot plucked from the far corner by Forster, before turning creator for Alexis Sanchez who was denied not once, but twice by the Englishman. It was a stunning display by the giant keeper; could David Villa’s arrival off the bench (for Alexis Sanchez) get the Catalans that much-needed equaliser?

Before Villa could get involved Messi had yet another superb shot saved by Forster, as his well-struck effort forced a heroic stop from the Celtic keeper – it was almost as though he was in fact unbeatable. Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué were brought on, for Alex Song and Marc Bartra respectively, which was probably for the best given that Song could and probably should have been sent off, and given that Bartra made what could have been a costly error around the hour-mark. However, you got the sense this wasn’t going to be Barcelona’s night. There was no comeback on the cards, far from it, as Celtic doubled their advantage with less than ten minutes left to play.

Unbelievably, the “assist” came from Fraser Forster, who launched the ball forward, but the real damage was done by Xavi, whose mistake allowed Tony Watt to race through on goal and the eighteen year-old displayed composure beyond his years to slot the ball past Victor Valdés and secure Celtic a valuable three points. Lionel Messi reduced the deficit in injury-time, thumping home the rebound after Forster got down low to claw away yet another save. Barcelona piled on the pressure and really could have grabbed an equaliser as Celtic looked down and out, but it wasn’t to be as the hosts held on for a historic victory. Despite the loss, Barcelona still top the group and travel to Mallorca on Sunday.

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