Celtic vs. Barcelona: Players Who Can Hurt Bhoys in Lionel Messi's Absence
With Lionel Messi ruled out for two to three weeks with a thigh injury, per the Guardian, Barcelona head to Celtic Park on Wednesday night deprived of their main attacking weapon.
However, they will still have plentiful attacking options at their disposal as they seek to avenge a shock 2-1 defeat at Celtic Park last season. Messi may be out, but Tata Martino has a number of players ready to step up to the plate.
Celtic coach Lennon has ordered his players to study dvd's of last season's win against Barcelona to inspire a repeat tomorrow. [via mail]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) September 30, 2013
Martino's side have started the season with seven straight wins in La Liga, as well as a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Ajax in the Champions League and success in the Spanish Super Cup. Messi has contributed greatly, but there is much more to this current side than simple Messi-dependencia.
Who, then, will be the biggest threats to Celtic's goal on Wednesday night?
In Messi's absence, Brazilian superstar Neymar will be the biggest draw in Barcelona's side at Celtic Park. It will be just the Brazilian's second outing in the Champions League, but his successes with Brazil mean that he is already a true global star.
Four assists in La Liga have been his main contribution to date, to add to the two goals he has scored across all competitions in what has been a largely supporting role to Messi. With the Argentine now absent, the onus is on Neymar to step up once more.
Likely to play from the left of a front three, Neymar has been an important figure in adding directness to Barça's play—as is the want of coach Martino. He is certainly not one to turn down a chance to attack, and Celtic will have their work cut out monitoring him on Wednesday.
Spain international Fabregas will almost certainly take the position of Messi at the head of the Barcelona attack in what has become known as the "false nine" role.
Fabregas has been utterly brilliant for Martino thus far, supplying six league assists from his No. 10 role and placing pressure on Martino regarding the selection of longtime midfield maestro Xavi.
Cesc will be looked to as a goal threat in his more advanced role, rather than the more creative figure that he has been this season. If he can find space to bring the two wide forwards into the game, though, Celtic could be facing a big scoreline.
Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez will be in direct competition with Spain international Pedro for the final spot in the Barça attacking triumvirate.
Alexis has begun life under Martino in fine style, contributing two goals and two assists in La Liga. He will have to rotate his position this season, but already looks much improved from the player of last campaign.
Cutting in from the right flank, with Dani Alves overlapping, Alexis will hope to feed off the likes of Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta on his regular forays into the penalty area. Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre will need to attentive throughout if the Scots are to nullify Alexis' threat.
The unexpected danger with Barcelona for several years now has been full-back Dani Alves, whose late runs into the area from the right have caught out many an offside trap.
After a subdued campaign last time out, Alves has begun life under Martino well and has already grabbed two league goals this season. With Xavi and Iniesta both likely to feature in midfield, he will know that there are two players in his side capable of picking out his last-minute dives into the area.
Dealing with Alves' bursts forward should be the remit of the left midfielder, but when Barça come with wave after wave of probing balls it is difficult to remain attentive to the task at hand. It is not surprising, then, that many of the most stubborn defences the Blaugrana have encountered have only been unlocked by the cavaliering full-back.
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