The curtains are about to be raised to let the sunlight of European football back onto the scene, where two clubs with contrasting post-International break matches will collide. Barcelona suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Deportivo Alaves at the Camp Nou, where substitute appearances from Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez did little to change the favours for the home side. Meanwhile, Celtic humiliated their fierce rivals Rangers 5-1 in the Old Firm Derby to establish themselves at the summit of the Scottish Premier League.
These two sides have met on eight occasions in the Champions League, with the last four encounters occurring since 2012. The most memorable clash, at least for Celtic fans, was a seemingly improbable 2-1 win at Celtic Park where teenager Tony Watt sealed the game with just seven minutes to go. Two of the other three matches were closely contested affairs, with the outcome decided by a single goal each time. It goes without saying that Barcelona always dominated the tempo of these games, but the only time their control of possession was reflected on the score line was on December 11th, 2013, when Barcelona ran out 6-1 winners. Georgios Samaras scored a late consolation that night and, interestingly enough, the former Greek international is the only player besides Lionel Messi to score in this fixture on separate occasions.
Team News – Barcelona
The home side will be buoyed by the news that their substitutes in last week’s disappointing loss, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez, are set to return to the starting line-up. Manager Luis Enrique will be hoping his rotation methods against Deportivo Alaves doesn’t double-backfire by failing to get a result in a competition where they’ve enjoyed so much success in recent years. To be fair, the ‘rotation’ players he used in the league last week included quality options such as new signing Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez, and it was simply more of a case of players not performing rather than wrong selections being made.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen picked up a hamstring injury during a training session prior to last weekend, but seems likely to be fit in time to start on Tuesday. The only other concern is Andre Gomes, new signing from Valencia who picked up a knock on the international break. The Portuguese international looks to have done enough to at least play a role against Celtic, perhaps from the bench.
Predicted XI: ter Stegen, Alba, Umtiti, Pique, Roberto; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Neymar, Suarez, Messi
Team News – Celtic
Celtic captain Scott Brown felt the full effects of the Old Firm Derby, being substituted late in the game after picking up a foot injury, but the skipper has joined his teammates in Catalonia to ensure his availability. The Scotsman has faced the Catalan giants in the Champions League on four separate occasions and will be wise to keep his temper in check, especially knowing that he has already seen red in this fixture in the past. Midfielder Gary Mackay-Steven, yet to make an appearance this season, is in a race for fitness.
The biggest blow to Celtic’s chances is the absence of star striker Leigh Griffiths, who recovers from a hamstring tear. The Scottish striker was absolutely lethal last season, registering 36 goals in all competitions, and his predatory instincts in front of goal will be missed. Still, Celtic have assembled a solid side with alternatives up front, namely former Fulham striker Moussa Dembele. The young Frenchman scored 15 league goals in the Championship last year and has already impressed for his new side with seven goals in 11 appearances.
Predicted XI: Gordon, Lustig, Toure, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Bitton, Brown, McGregor, Forrest, Rogic; Dembele.
Barcelona 3 Celtic 1
A poor result on the weekend will be all the more reason to believe that Barcelona should see this one out with minimal fuss. Celtic feature some impressive players, Tom Rogic in particular looking a confident and physically imposing player who can cause Barcelona some problems, but not enough to get a result away from home. Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers will enjoy a moment with former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, but pleasantries will end once the referees whistle blows.