Celtic returned from the International break with a number of players injured and/or arriving back to the club very late on to participate in a lunchtime kick-off on Saturday. However, this did not stop Celtic smashing through a poor St Mirren to record a resounding 5-0 win.
We saw plenty of changes to the team on Saturday. Mulgrew and Matthews returned at full back, Ledley and Kayal came back into midfield and Watt and Lassad joined Hooper in an exciting 4-3-3 formation.
It was apparent from the start of the game that St Mirren were going to struggle with the pace and movement of the front players, ably supported by the midfield three. Celtic quickly set about their task of winning this game, showing no sign of preoccupation with more glamorous games ahead.
Some great passing and movement between Celtics forwards saw Lassad find Hooper with an excellent cross from the right and the striker was able to use his body to guide the ball in for the Celtic opener on 15 minutes. Shortly after a howler from the keeper was pounced upon by Ambrose who double Celtics lead and opened his account for the club.
The celebration after the goal was a master class in itself and it will be interesting to see how many bhoys try copying this on the streets of Cataluña after a few of the local beverages this week.
Celtic were on easy street now and it was really a question of when not if the next goal would come. 14 minutes later to be precise and after more poor defending from the hosts the ball fell to Victor Wanyama who slotted the ball home and chose a more subdued celebration than his colleague.
Celtics 4th goal and Wanyamas second came 6 minutes later and was worthy of another few flicks and jumps of celebration as he curled a shot into the top corner from 25 yards. A goal as impressive as his all round play as he once again demonstrated his route to the top of the game is accelerating each week.
As is the norm with this type of half time scoreline, the second period was played at a more sedate level. St Mirren did create chances; thankfully they fell to our old friend Steven Thompson whose finishing skills have not improved, despite spending ever more broadcasting time with Billy Dodds.
Celtic finally got a well deserved 5th goal when a lovely cross from Izzaguire was headed in by Tony Watt with just a couple of minutes remaining. Wanyama then struck the bar with a header in injury time, denying himself a hat-trick.
This game had so many positives for Celtic, especially given the players that were missing. Firstly, the sight of Daniel Fergus McGrain in amongst the first team staff was great to see. Matthews made a fine comeback from injury although had to be taken off with a slight strain.
Kayal and Ledley both had strong games in midfield, plus importantly managed to complete 90 minutes. We saw an improved performance from Lassad and latterly Miku when he replaced his injured colleague and finally the star of the show young Tony Watt.
His introduction to the squad this season has been a real bright spot. He comes across as a young bhoy playing for the club we all love and just desperate to learn and improve.
He has raw edges but his willingness and desire to continually attack is everything we look for at Celtic. A big future lies ahead for this young man and the inevitable blow of losing Gary Hooper at some point might not be as severe as we all fear.
BrummieBhoy Internet Bampot MOM award for St Mirren game goes to Tony Watt.
I wrote my Barca preview last midweek to save some time finishing my blog today. Ironically, the league game for each club at the weekend has greatly increased my views on the strengths and weaknesses for both.
Celtic’s exciting European adventure continues this week with the Bhoys travelling to Cataluña to take on the mighty Barcelona.
This could really be the game of clichés, as on paper it’s a David v Goliath clash where the underdog has no realistic chance of escaping a brutal beating. But in keeping with the clichés, football really is played on grass (with the exception of Stoke) and not paper and most importantly…………….this is Celtic.
Celtic will have to face the attacking threat of at least 5 of the following players – Messi, Villa, Pedro, Sanchez, Tello, Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago or Fabregas. Irrespective of who is selected, we are going to face an incredible array of talent from a team that has recently been touted as the best ever, a title I was in agreement with 12-18 months ago.
If the wizard that is Lionel Messi plays to even 60% of his ability then we will do well to concede no more than a couple of goals. The International break saw him score a couple for Argentina alongside an impressive hat-trick from Pedro for Spain, the undoubted kings of World Football so the forward players of Barca are in good form coming into this encounter.
Whilst Messi has rightly received a number of plaudits, my favourite player in this team (and possibly of all time) is Xavi, a genius in his position. The standards that he has set (and maintained) at all levels of world football are a joy to behold and he is the master of his trade.
Barcelona have won every competitive game they have played in this season, outwith two encounters against Real Madrid. In one of those defeats, they totally outplayed the hosts for the whole of the second half despite only having 10 men and were denied a late winner in the other game by the width of the crossbar.
Despite this complimentary introduction, I genuinely believe that we have a better chance than ever to make a game of it on Tuesday against our illustrious opponents. I was in the Camp Nou when we put them out of the UEFA Cup in March 2004, as one sided a game as you could see. That is until we drew against them in the CL later that year courtesy of a John Hartson strike, after another 90 minute battering.
However, despite the gulf in finances and world class players I firmly believe that we have a style of play away in Europe that suits this fixture, and a group of players who will look forward to the challenge of this game and will try and give as good as they get.
So how do we overcome Barca? Well there seems to be two ways for this to happen based on previous history. Firstly, they have a huge off night across the team and Celtic excel in their play and do enough to grab an unlikely draw or win. Possible, but unlikely that we will see this amount of star players out of form at the same time.
In recent times, I have only seen Barca outplayed and out thought by two teams, Inter and Real Madrid, both of whom were managed by Jose Mourinho at the time. The tactics he used in each of these victories was to block off the central area inside and just outside of the box where Messi likes to do his best work, and hit on the counter attack as quickly as possible using long balls to the front players.
This is a tactic that Celtic follow to a degree in Europe already. We are solid in the middle of the park, adding in an extra body when needed and our main outlet is the pace and strength of Samaras down the left, support by Commons, Hooper and Brown (or Forrest).
Whilst I have praised the attacking force of Barca, let us be in no doubt that they are very vulnerable at the back just now and can definitely be exploited by the pace and power of Samaras. Alves, Puyol and Abidail are definitely out of the fixture, Pique is a doubt and Valdes is having a shocker of a season so far.
We will also have a huge physical advantage for set pieces. Song will be the only player above 6ft who may have to contend with Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew, Lustig, Wanyama, Samaras. Don’t be surprised to see us score with at least one header in this game.
There is little point in us putting 10 players behind the ball and hoping to see the game out and given the low level of expectation for this fixture then I firmly believe we should try and have a go at this Barca side. Our excellent victory in Moscow almost gives us a free shot at this game and we should play without fear wherever possible.
To allow us to distribute the ball quickly and accurately I would return Mulgrew to the back alongside Wilson. His ability to play long accurate passes to Samaras, especially when space is available will be essential. Lustig and Izzaguire should retain the full back positions and this could genuinely be another big step in the return of Izzy to the player that we all know and loved.
In front of the back 4 I would play Wanyama and Ambrose in the hope that their presence and strength can snuff out the creative area of the Barca team. In addition to this they are both comfortable in possession which will be key as we need to retain the ball whenever possible to allow players a breather.
This leaves 4 more attack minded players, 3 of whom will undoubtedly be Samaras, Hooper and Commons. I would play either Ledley or Brown in the 4th place, switching between midfield and attack when Celtic manage to counter attack. It would be a real blow if injury keeps Brown out of the team as his style of play will be key in trying to upset the rhythm of Barca.
If we are still in the game going into the last 30 minutes then players like Forrest and Miku could give us a real option late on, especially Forrest against a tiring defence.
Ultimately if Barca play to form then there is little chance of us winning the game. However, this team is no great respecter of reputation or form books and will be looking to build on their fantastic run of form in Europe this season. Whilst I think we will score one or maybe two goals, sadly I think the final score will be 3-2 or 4-2 to Barca, hopefully I will be wrong.
Liam (twitter @BrummieBhoy)