Barcelona's defensive lapses give Neil Lennon reason to hope for Celtic
Tuesday 23 October 2012
Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, spoke of going into tonight's game against Barcelona in "hope more than expectation" against a rival expert in "laying to waste the best-laid plans" of their opponents. But as a spectator at the Riazor on Saturday night he saw Barcelona score five more goals against Deportivo la Coruna to continue their near perfect start to the season – they have only dropped two points so far – but also witnessed four goals going past Barça keeper Victor Valdes.
If there is a difference between Pep Guardiola's Barcelona and that of his former No 2, Tito Vilanova, it is one of statistics more than style. At this point last season Barça had only conceded four goals. After eight games this term they have let in 11, with three scored by their own players.
"Injuries cannot be the only justification," said Vilanova. He has seen the first-choice back four from the Guardiola years become unavailable one player at a time. Dani Alves, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique have all joined Eric Abidal on the sidelines. Vilanova will name a defence that contains three full-backs and a converted midfielder against Celtic tonight. He said: "The players that come in are still Barcelona players; we need to concede fewer goals. What is encouraging is that we are outscoring everyone else so the goals conceded are not costing us points."
Asked if he would prefer to win 5-4 more than 1-0 he erred, with a smile, towards the former, but knows should Leo Messi ever dry up – he is now four goals from Pele's record haul of 75 goals in one calendar year achieved in 1959 – then the back door will have to be shut.
Lennon mentioned the word "speed" on more than one occasion yesterday and Vilanova noted the counter-attacking football that caught out Spartak Moscow in the previous round of matches. "We expect them to defend in their own half and try to attack us with pace on the counter attack," he said.
Lennon, when asked if he saw a different Barça under their new coach, said: "Watching them against Deportivo it seems to have been a seamless transition but how he deals with the first crisis will be the test."
Part of the wisdom behind handing Vilanova the baton after Guardiola called time on his four years in charge was that he coached Messi when the Argentine was a 13-year-old and Messi remains the focal point of the team post-Pep.
"Better teams than us have tried and failed to stop him. We just have to hope he has an off day," said Lennon, who is unlikely to change a 4-5-1 formation that was successful in Moscow.
Orange and lemon strip turns sour
It will go down as the strip that was so bad, even one of the best teams in history couldn't carry it off. Barcelona's new away kit this season is locally referred to as the "Calippo shirt" after the orange and lemon ice lolly – if only it were as popular.
The club will ditch it at the end of 2012-13 and replace it with a shirt based on the yellow-and red-stripes of the Catalan flag. One Madrid commentator quipped at the weekend: "Barça feel they were hard done by the refereeing decisions – maybe their shirts offended him."
Latest in Sport
Neil Warnock sacked: Crystal Palace confirm manager Warnock has been axed following the Boxing Day defeat to Southampton
Manchester United vs Newcastle match report: Brilliant Wayne Rooney scores twice to fire up United's unlikely title challenge
Manchester United injury news: Angel Di Maria unlikely to face Spurs as Marouane Fellaini's 'mystery illness' turns out to be rib injury
Arsenal vs QPR player ratings: Could anyone outshine new Gunners hero Alexis Sanchez and who was worse than villain Olivier Giroud?
Manchester United 3 Newcastle 1: 'I'm playing like Paul Scholes,' says Wayne Rooney
- 1 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 2 Margaret Thatcher 'expressed fears of Asian rising' at Anglo-Irish summit in 1984
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 Sussex couple die in suspected Christmas Day 'suicide pact'
- 5 The Unluckiest People of the Year 2014 (and one very unlucky giraffe)
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever