Strachan banks on home record to blunt Barcelona

Click to follow
The Independent Football

When beasts as large and multi-talented as Barcelona block your path to the Champions' League quarter-finals, it is natural to be drawn to any chink of light. One ray of hope for Celtic ahead of their last 16 home leg against the Catalans tonight is their peerless form at Parkhead in the current format of this tournament: one defeat, ever, albeit to Barcelona.

A second glimmer arrived yesterday from Barça's Samuel Eto'o, who suggested the Spanish team were not necessarily intent on trying to rip Celtic's hopes to shreds at the first time of asking.

"The important thing is not to concede a goal," said the Cameroon forward in statement atypical by Barça standards for its caution. Eto'o returns to the squad after an absence of eight matches because of international duty at the African Nations Cup.

"Sometimes you just don't score that many goals," he said. "Goals come in spells. Any team and any player can have good spells and bad spells."

Celtic are having a good one. They have won their last eight games, including six in the Scottish Premier League, scoring 23 goals (13 in their last three matches) and conceding just twice.

Barça are not. In their last 10 matches the most glittering squad of attacking talent in Europe have scored more than one goal just twice, most recently at the weekend in a controversial 2-1 win over Real Zaragoza. That still left them five points behind Real Madrid in La Liga.

Thierry Henry appeared to control the ball with his arm before opening the scoring on Saturday. Zaragoza missed a penalty that might have earned a draw. Ronaldinho's winner arrived from a late disputed penalty after he came off the bench.

The Brazilian, criticised recently for being overweight and lacklustre, is not assured of a start, although his manager, Frank Rijkaard, was yesterday still considering whether he or Eto'o would join Lionel Messi and Henry in a three-man front line. The last time Barça were in Glasgow – against Rangers in the group stage in October – Ronaldinho played and his side could only draw 0-0.

Celtic have their own selection concerns and, given their sometimes frail defending, they are potentially more damaging. Their new right-back, Andreas Hinkel, is cup-tied and his two ready-made replacements, Mark Wilson and Jean-Joël Perrier Doumbé, are both injured. That leaves Celtic's manager, Gordon Strachan, to decide whether to give the 19-year-old Paul Caddis a Champions League debut in Hinkel's place, or, more likely, field a more seasoned player such as Paul Hartley or Gary Caldwell out of position.

Playing Hartley at full-back would at least allow Caldwell to stay at centre-half, and even with Scott Brown suspended in central midfield – where Hartley competes for a place – the Celtic manager would still be able to pick two from the three of Massimo Donati, Barry Robson and Evander Sno.

Strachan's flair wide players, Shunsuke Nakamura and Aiden McGeady, are guaranteed starts, while Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Scott McDonald (who has 24 goals this season) should be up front.

For Celtic to have any realistic hope of progress, they must win tonight. On their own turf, they have proved an almost immovable object in the Champions League. In 16 games at Parkhead in the tournament proper in five campaigns, all since 2001, they have won 12, drawn three and lost just one.

They had a 100 per cent home record in this season's group stage, beating the reigning champions, Milan, as well as Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk. Last season their home scalps included Manchester United and they drew 0-0 in the knockout phase with Milan. Juventus and Lyons have also visited Glasgow's east end and lost in recent years.

It is a record that bears comparison with any side on the continent. But then Barça are the only team to have beaten Celtic on their own patch in the competition – a 3-1 group-stage win in September 2004. And, despite Eto'o's caution, they retain an awesome threat.

Tonight's probable teams

Celtic

Boruc

Hartley

Caldwell

McManus

Naylor

Nakamura

Robson

Donati

McGeady

V of Hesselink McDonald

Barcelona

Valdes

Puyol

Milito

Marquez

Abidal

Xavi

Deco

Gudjohnsen

Messi

Eto'o

Henry

Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Denmark), TV: Sky One Kick-off: 19.45

Comments