Trips up north have brought their fair share of troubles for FC Barcelona. San Mames and Anoeta immediately spring to mind, but Celta Vigo’s Estadio Balaidos has also proven to be a tricky ground. Since 2004, the blaugrana have visited Celta on six occasions and 2013’s 3-0 win aside, Barça has won thrice, drew once and lost once. Those victories, however, were not routine as on each occasion the winning margin was a solitary goal and in two of those victories Celta were down to 10 men for portions of the game. Expect tomorrow night’s visit to prove customarily tricky.
Celta have begun the season in tremendous fashion. Undefeated in the opening four league games, Celta are in fourth place but equal on points with both Real Madrid and Villarreal in second and third respectively. Going a bit deeper, only an away win to Sevilla really stands out despite Unai Emery’s men sitting rock bottom in the league. Celta’s other wins thus far have come at Levante and against Rayo Vallecano. They also drew 3-3 at home to newly promoted Las Palmas, a less than impressive result. Nevertheless, Celta’s high press game is full of verve and attacking impetus. The front three of former blaugrana Nolito, Iago Aspas and Fabian Orellana are clicking and with support of Austrian Daniel Wass, former Valencia man Pablo Hernandez and once highly projected Swede John Guidetti, Celta have plenty of firing power. Nolito is a genuinely nice player that actually should be seen as a La Masia success story rather than failure. He isn’t good enough to start at Camp Nou but he’s found a level and club where his skills can be properly rewarded. Three other former Barça boys are in the Galician side’s ranks; Carles Planas, Sergi Gomez and Andreu Fontas, one of which should start at centerback.
That said, their high press game comes with the unescapable risk of conceding. With only one clean sheet, against an even more gungho outfit in Rayo, Celta boss Eduardo Berizzo may have to think twice about how he will approach Barcelona. Conceding three goals to Las Palmas isn’t something to hang one’s defensive hat on and Celta will definitely lose if they try to get into a slug fest with MSN.
Bringing it back home, Luis Enrique rested several starters against Levante recognizing that the trip to Celta would be significantly more troublesome. Tonight Lucho will put out the gala group and then again make some changes over the weekend at home to Las Palmas before the midweek game against Bayer Leverkusen.
Berizzo is happy that his countrymen Gustavo Cabral and Pedro Pablo “Tucu” Hernández recovered from knocks against Sevilla and should be available for selection (squad list pending).
Possible Starting XI: Sergio Alvarez – Hugo Mallo, Fontas, Cabral, Planas – Hernandez, Fernandez, Wass – Nolito, Aspas, Orellana
Match Squad – TBA
Gerard Piqué is again available for selection after serving his absurd four match suspension. He should slot right in to the starting lineup. Rafinha is obviously unavailable tomorrow, which need not be repeated for many months, and now the most recent member to the DL is Sandro Ramírez with a bruised leg. Douglas, Claudio Bravo and Thomas Vermaelen are also injured.
Possible Starting XI: Ter Stegen – Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba – Rakitić, Busquets, Iniesta – Neymar, Suarez, Messi
Match Squad: Marc-André Ter Stegen, Gerard Piqué, Ivan Rakitić, Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, Andrés Iniesta, Luis Suárez, Leo Messi, Neymar Jr, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, Munir El Haddadi, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Adriano Correia, Jérémy Mathieu, Jordi Masip, Gerard Gumbau.
While Celta look lofty with their league position, I have to predict a Barcelona win. They may have beaten Sevilla but it wasn’t easy and they didn’t have the luxury to rotate players like Luis Enrique did. Barça bring back a fresh Ney, Luis and Andrés and a Leo who will want that missed penalty back. Playing Barça is always a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation tactically. If Celta impose themselves, Barça will break past the high press and get goals. But if you aren’t used to sitting back, you’re going to give up chances too. Regardless, anyone facing Barça play with house money, so if I was Berizzo I’d square up and give it my best shot.