On one of the few times since becoming a Barcelona player, Lionel Messi scoring couldn’t save Barcelona from defeat, only their second loss in all competitions this season and the first in the Champions League. More than that, it exposed the team’s problem handling a British defense for yet another time, adding another headache to the list for Tito Vilanova.
Barcelona’s worst performance of the season? There have been a few bad matches already in which they really struggled to find a way through a nine-man defense and a colossal goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, on one of those unbeatable days. Sometimes, just a little bit of luck was needed as well, like Messi clipping the crossbar in the first half, but this wasn’t the same as the encounter in Camp Nou, where Chelsea scored once from a corner and never even tried crossing the halfway line once.
Barcelona felt pressure every now and then and failed to handle it. Their good moments where when they found paths for quick passing, without anyone holding on to the ball for too long. Every time Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi had the ball at their feet for an extended period, they’d find two players closing them down, without too many options left except for dribbling them out. It failed most of the time.
Celtic directed Barcelona to the kind of football and attacking they wanted. Not enough quick passing around the box, with players making the cuts through the wings and then with the pass to the outside for the open men. Barcelona’s good chances came that way, with Jordi Alba and Dani Alves finding themselves open from time to time. Celtic reacted well to those chances most of the time, with players lunging at shots and passes. It was one of those matches that can only happen about one in ten, with Barcelona taking 24 shots at goal as opposed to Celtic’s 5.
Celtic kept giving Barcelona the option to cross, knowing fully well they can handle that with ease, and they did. Dani Alves swerved a ball into the box time and time again, while Jordi Alba did it a few times from his side as well. Nothing. Too many tall players and big bodies to deny the small Barcelona team, who moved to a bit more recognizable style in the second half, playing on the ground.
If the first goal they conceded was pure mismatch, as Jordi Alba had no chance of stopping Victor Wanyama on that corner kick, the second goal was pure defensive bufoonery, as Xavi tried to karate kick a ball, missing it completely, and Javier Mascherano showed once again that he isn’t a centre back, and it’s good that Gerard Pique is slowly coming back.
Lionel Messi showed us that playing on the right, like old times, might be good here and there. Teams have gotten used to his presence in the middle, and Messi moving to the wing reignites his fantastic combo with Dani Alves while creates other problems and holes for defensive teams, who have to send out two players to cover him on the wing.
Barcelona always struggle in England, and Celtic are that kind of team that gives Barcelona problems. Unlike Real Madrid, who don’t like teams pressing them and trying to play attacking football against them, Barcelona don’t have a long range shot option to easily open teams parking the bus.
Not enough quick passing, too much possession on night like these, which is something that must be addressed because the road in the Champions League will probably carry them through a Premier League team at some point, although none of them will probably play the way Celtic played on this particular night.