Catenaccio. It defined an entire generation of Italian players in the 1950s and 60s, and led to the invention of the sweeper, the libero. This deep lying center back was a one man wall in the 1-3-3-3 formation that became a familiar sight on the European continent at this time, first made famous by Helenio Herrera’s Internazionale. On Wednesday evening in a chilly Glasgow it’s quite possible that Culés of a more modern generation will be treated to a similar spectacle. Why the deviation from the tried and true 4-3-3 of the past few seasons? Simple: the Catalans are out of defenders.
Barcelona travel to Scotland this Wednesday evening to face a Celtic side that can count itself unlucky to have not taken a point in the Camp Nou on matchday three. Jordi Alba’s late winner broke Glaswegian hearts, and a Celtic side out for revenge will present quite a challenge to a defensively diminished Barcelona. Tito Vilanova will be without Carles Puyol, Adriano, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, while Gerard Piqué has not played a minute of competitive football in seven weeks. Whatever formation Vilanova chooses Wednesday, it probably won’t look like anything you’ve seen before.
What will this Franken-Barça look like? In front of Valdés I envision Mascherano as a makeshift libero behind a deep lying midfield three of Song, Dani Alves and Marc Bartra. It’s simply too early for Gerard Piqué to start a match, much less against a tenacious Celtic side that played so well in the Camp Nou; a few minutes towards the end of the match should suffice. Higher up the field I’d like to see Xavi, Iniesta and Fàbregas, with Villa, Messi and Sánchez making up the final third of the pitch. Unlikely? Maybe. Barcelona find themselves with severely limited options in the back so Vilanova needs to “think outside of the box”, as American pundits love to say.
Celtic, hard done by Jordi Alba on matchday three, doesn’t enter the match on the back of a good weekend result, and it’s just as well. The Bhoys surprised in the Camp Nou with their determined defence and propensity to lure the Catalans deeper into their own half to spark the counter attack, and a demoralizing last-gasp draw to Dundee United was probably not what the doctor ordered ahead of their crucial clash on Wednesday.
Celtic have also lost several key players to injury, and may face the Catalans without Emilio Izaguirre, James Forrest, Gary Hooper, Lassad or Georgios Samaras, all of whom missed the trip to Dundee on the weekend. The absence of Samaras in particular would be a major boost to Barcelona, as his height and ability in the air wrought havoc on matchday three. Celtic boss Neil Lennon would appear to agree: “He came back for the Barca game and played very well until he picked up the ankle injury so even if the rest of the players were fit, Samaras would have been very important to us and we are hoping he is going to make kick-off.”
Match Prediction: This should be an entertaining match for both sets of spectators, if for no other reason than they’ll be treated to a spectacle quite different from the first match. The two sides that come out of the tunnel Wednesday should be very different from the two that met in the Camp Nou a fortnight ago, but there is an ominous sign looming for the Bhoys from Glasgow. Lionel Messi, fresh from attending the birth of his first son, is in the midst of a “goal drought” of an entire game. Messi did not score. In a competitive match. At all! La Pulga no doubt has a point to prove, new father and all, so expect him to shoot regularly. As long as Mascherano can marshal the defence and Valdés is paying attention, this one should end up in the Catalans’ favor.
Celtic 0-3 FC Barcelona
Image: David Ramos/Getty Images