Barcelona v Celtic
Barcelona and Celtic enter this game in sharply contrasting moods.
Barcelona, fresh from an emphatic 3-0 thrashing of their archrivals Real Madrid and seven points clear at the top of La Liga, are clearly on a high.
Celtic, meanwhile, have seen their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership cut to just one point after a similarly comprehensive derby defeat at Rangers on Saturday. They also face European elimination should they lose in the Nou Camp tonight and Shakhtar pull off an unlikely win in Milan.
Celtic boss Martin O’Neill believes his players are more than capable of rising to the occasion though.
He said: “We have an important Champions League game. I don’t think we will not be able to focus.
“You play all year to get into this competition so it is pretty easy to play in these games.”
Barcelona require just a point to guarantee qualification whilst Celtic have to win both tonight’s clash and the remaining game at home to Milan in two weeks time to have any hope of qualifying. More realistically they are competing for third spot and a UEFA Cup entry with Shakhtar, also on three points but with a far superior goal difference.
O’Neill said: “We face an enormous task but it is one which I feel the players are capable of rising to.
“The Barcelona side are at this minute playing some wonderful football and are seven points clear in the Spanish league which is one of the strongest in the world.
“The task is enormous and they have some fantastic players like Xavi and the best player in the world at this minute in Ronaldinho.”
Celtic fought out a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp last season to progress in the UEFA Cup but the Spaniards emphatically won 3-1 in Glasgow on the opening day of this Champions League campaign.
Summing up the enormity of Celtic’s task this evening O’Neill said: “They are the finest team in European football at the minute.”
Barcelona have lost Henrik Larsson for the rest of the season to their fifth serious knee ligament injury in only four months. Barcelona president Joan Laporta immediately announced that Larsson would be awarded a one-year contract extension.
Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard was full of praise for his president’s swift move. “It is a great gesture of support in one of the most difficult moments in any player’s career,” he said.
Rijkaard was also quick to point out that his team would be fully prepared for a tough match tonight.
He said: “No one should forget that this is the Champions League where there is never very much to separate the teams in terms of quality.
“No one should forget that with a couple of minutes to go against AC Milan in the San Siro, Celtic were drawing. We will prepare against Celtic as if we were facing the best team in the world and I’ll expect my players to go out and show their playing style with that in mind.”
Ludovic Giuly, who scored from one of Barca’s 17 attempts on goal at Celtic Park on Matchday 1, will play in place of Larsson but Rijkaard is not expected to make any further changes to the side that defeated Madrid.
Celtic’s problems in team selection centre on the fitness of full-back Didier Agathe, who will need a late fitness test, and Dianbobo Balde, whose wife is due to give birth. Both men remain in contention though.