Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Celtic given hope by Barcelona's defensive lapses

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."

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