This Tuesday sees the current leaders of Scotland travel to the leaders of Spain in the third match of this season’s group stage, with both sides coming off the back of wins at the weekend. But while Celtic registered a routine 5-0 success at St Mirren, Vilanova’s men also scored five away from home, but in an altogether different match in Galicia against Deportivo La Coruna. After being three up inside eighteen minutes, the game proceeded to thrill and terrify in equal measure, with Barca finally emerging with an incredible 5-4 victory, with surprise surprise, Lionel Messi netting yet another hat trick; his twenty first treble in Barcelona colours.
With no Puyol or Pique, and Dani Alves also absent, it was only going to be a matter of time before a team took advantage of central midfielders playing at the heart of the defence. Mascherano and Song struggled to cope, and the former was harshly sent off for a second yellow card early in the second half. But the biggest miss is Sergio Busquets, Tito will need have to shuffle the deck even more and rely on the versatility and mental strength of the players. This will give Neil Lennon’s players some encouragement for the daunting task that lies ahead of them in midweek.
As I have mentioned, the big battle will be whether Gary Hooper, and Giorgos Samaras can cause enough problems for Barca’s back line with the limited opportunities afforded to them. At the other end, Emilio Izaguirre and co will face the toughest test they will come up against this, or any other season. With Pedro on the bench at the weekend, I would imagine he will be restored to the starting lineup for this one, while David Villa may drop back to substitute after starting at Riazor.
The squad is pretty much at the “bare bones” stage now, especially at the back, so there isn’t an awful lot of scope for Tito to chop and change. This is my predicted starting eleven:
Valdes, Montoya, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis
I think Adriano will be recalled and used as a CB again. Song will be needed in the middle as Busquets is suspended for the previous match red card. Alexis and Pedro will come back into the starting lineup to add experience to the attack. Cesc and Villa will get some game time, but probably from the bench.
Well, it’s got to be a home win, right? Celtic will have their moments upfront, there’s no way that this current Barca defence will successfully repel every attack. However, I can’t see the Scots’ rearguard having a pleasant evening in Catalonia. I will hold back a little on the prediction, and say that Barca will win by three clear goals, although I have a sneaky feeling it will be more.