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When Group C front-runners FC Barcelona stride out into the frigid, floodlit night at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland on Wednesday for their fifth Champions League match of the season, they’ll be doing so with but a single objective in mind — a victory and a berth in the last 16.
Although a bevy of scenarios abound, the Catalans are comfortably in the driver’s seat, and a triumph will usher them into the next round, regardless of what materializes in the group’s other fixture, which pits Borussia Mönchengladbach against visiting Manchester City. If City fall, however, a Barça win will bag them the top spot in Group C, thereby steering them clear of all other group winners in the round of 16, the first knockout stage of this tournament of tournaments.
Amidst the heaps of news making headlines in Barçaville this week was one novelty that will doubtlessly provide no small amount of solace to head coach Luis Enrique Martínez — the reappearance of strikers Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Messi (stomach ailment) and Suárez (yellow card accumulation) were conspicuously absent from last weekend’s scoreless draw at Camp Nou, but the pair will be running on high octane come kick off, should they start.
For Celtic, striker Leigh Griffiths will miss the match with a hamstring injury, while manager Brendan Rodgers has been in stand-by mode regarding the status of veteran defender Kolo Touré, who has been hobbled with a groin injury.
Rodgers, still chasing his first Champions League group stage win as Celtic’s coach, venerated Barça and their so-called trident, while also expressing hope that Wednesday would yield a distinct result, perhaps even serendipitously.
“They're a top class, world-class team with arguably the best front three that has ever played for Barcelona,” he said. “But I would hope that it would be a different performance from ourselves."
Nevertheless, he said, “when you're playing against this quality of team you also have to have a bit of luck, so when your opportunities come, you can take them."
Luis Enrique, who appeared before the press later in the day, echoed Rodgers in more ways than one.
“It will be special because they are a great club,” he said. “The game will be nothing like the one in the first round.”
After vanquishing everything in sight with an effective blend of its quintessential panache and good, old-fashioned elbow grease in the first three Matchdays of this season’s Champions League, the Barça train came to a screeching halt in their last stop, at Manchester City, marring what had been a nearly flawless start. The Celtic match, thus, is Barça’s chance to get back on track, fire up the boiler, and steam into the last 16 with a game in hand.
The Celts, on the other hand, must not only change course but, more importantly, keep the ship afloat, or else their dreams of reaching safe harbor in the next round will sink like a stone into the continental abyss. Anything short of a victory over Barça will see Rodgers' side, who are last in the pecking order in wins (0), points (2), and goal differential (-9), exit the competition after the group stages.
In their last 9 Champions League games versus Celtic, FC Barcelona have racked up 7 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss… Neymar has scored four goals and delivered five assists in three Champions League games against Celtic…Barça and Celtic faced off at Camp Nou in Champions League Matchday 1 back on 13 September, when Barça beat their Scottish guests, 7–0, Messi hat-trick included. (Highlights below)
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered with local broadcast information and kick-off times around the world. You can also listen to live play-by-play streamed in English on Radio Barça, as well as follow our exclusive, minute-by-minute updates on FC Barcelona's official English language Twitter account as the action unfolds.
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