Celtic Park will be the place to be in Europe on Wednesday evening, as Barcelona comes to visit on Champions League business.
The atmosphere inside Celtic Park on Champions League nights is unmatched anywhere in Europe. Almost 60,000 Celtic fans will provide a constant wall of noise in support of their team, though more in hope than in expectation.
Barca sit at the top of Group G with the maximum nine points from the first round of fixtures, while Celtic lie in second place on four points after a draw at home against Benfica and a first-ever group stage away win in Moscow.
Spartak Moscow is in third place with three points, with Benfica bringing up the rear on one. At this stage, all three teams must fancy their chances of qualifying for the knock-out phase along with Barcelona.
Celtic would be in a very strong position to take it if they can snatch a point tomorrow night, with each of the other two sides still to face the Catalan matadors.
Both sides have injury worries ahead of the match.
Barca will be missing Carlos Puyol, Adriano and Thiago through injury, while Sergio Busquets completes a two-match suspension.
Gerard Pique has been added to the squad, but there is still doubt over whether he will play on the night.
You feel that those absences will not affect Barcelona as much as Celtic’s chances will be damaged by their possible missing players.
Scott Brown, Gary Hooper, James Forrest, Georgios Samaras, Thomas Rogne and Emilio Izaguirre are all injury concerns, although none of them have definitely been ruled out at this point.
Apart from Rogne, all would be certain starters if fit, so manager Neil Lennon will be hoping as many of them as possible are able to play.
The match will more than likely follow a similar pattern to the contest at Camp Nou two weeks ago, with Barcelona enjoying the vast bulk of possession.
Celtic will be hoping both that they can defend as well as they did in Barca’s 2-1 victory, and that their luck can hold out just that bit longer than in the agonizing last 30 seconds in Catalonia.
Key players for Celtic will be goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who performed such heroics two weeks ago, and central defensive duo Efe Ambrose and Kelvin Wilson, who between them kept Lionel Messi relatively subdued.
In midfield, Victor Wanyama will have a huge role to play but must avoid picking up the yellow card which would see him suspended for the next—potentially decisive—match, away to Benfica on 20th November.
Uncertainty remains over who will lead the Celtic attack, due to Hooper’s injury concern. Should he not make it, either Miku or Tony Watt, both scorers in the 2-2 weekend draw at Dundee United, should take his place.
They are very different players, Miku providing excellent movement off the ball and a more cerebral approach than the pacey, powerful, but raw Watt.
Celtic’s best chance of taking anything from the game remains set-pieces.
Taking together Barcelona’s defensive selection problems, Charlie Mulgrew’s precision deliveries and Celtic’s height advantage, the Bhoys could, as they so nearly did in the away tie, spring an upset.
On the other hand, Barcelona remain the only away team to win at Celtic Park in the Champions League—group or knock-out stage—and have a better scoring record against Celtic at Celtic Park than in Spain.
All things being equal, Tito Vilanova’s team should take the three points again.
Look out for an eye-catching tifo display by Celtic’s Green Brigade supporters group, who have promised something special to mark Celtic’s 125th anniversary—the club was formed at a meeting in St. Mary’s Church, Calton, on 6th November 1887.
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