A Jordi Alba goal in the final minute of injury time sparked off celebrations at the Camp Nou. It was just reward for Barça against a Celtic side that only wanted to defend its early lead
Barça are now top of their Champions League group with a five-point lead over the Scots
The 2-1 win has ultimately consolidated FCB’s place at the top of their Champions League group, and a berth in the last sixteen is already within touching distance. But Barça don’t half do things the hard way! Once again they battled in the face of adversity – Celtic took an early lead, with Iniesta levelling affairs on the edge of half time. After a tense second half, and just when it looked liked things were set to end all square, Jordi Alba came to the rescue with a last second strike. On the basis of the football displayed this evening, Barça really should have made sure of the three points much earlier. But the ultra-conservative tactics employed by the Glaswegians, as they desperately tried to make the most of their somewhat fortunate opener, meant Barça struggled to create chances, with Messi almost entirely marked out of the game.
Barça stayed faithful to their trademark possession football and waiting game, and just when it looked like time had run out for them, they clinched a last-gasp winner that sent Celtic home with nothing to show for their defiant display.
Vilanova had to improvise in order to cover for his injury-struck defence, and opted to play Bartra in the centre alongside Mascherano, with Adriano at right back and Alba on the left. Song, meanwhile, covered for the suspended Busquets in the defensive midfield role.
Everything started according to plan, with some confident football and convincing combination plays against a Celtic team that Neil Lennon had clearly decided was going to be focusing its attentions on defending. It wasn’t long before the visitors were warned just how difficult a job that was going to be when Iniesta, following a delightful team move, broke down the Scottish wall for the first time, but Alexis’ failed to find the target. The game was only two minutes old and Barça were already looking dangerous.
Some might have imagined that Barça had already used up all their bad luck at Riazor on Saturday, but that was not the case. In an incredible move from a corner involving all of Xavi, Messi, Iniesta and Bartra, it was a wonder that they didn’t score, and yet just moments later, Celtic went ahead. A 17th minute free kick skimmed off Samaras’ head and was turned by Mascherano into his own net. There had always been concern about what Celtic would be able to do with high balls into the area, and one of just two such crosses in the whole first half had Valdés picking the ball out of the back of the net.
Iniesta’s golden touch
The goal made Barça hungrier than ever, but also got the Scots concentrating even more earnestly on keeping things as tight as physically possible at the back. It wasn’t pretty football, but it was remarkably effective, with Barça in almost total control of the ball but failing to produce much in the way of real chances in the first 45 minutes.
It needed a little piece of magic, and that finally came a matter of seconds before the break. When Messi, Xavi and Iniesta combine to create an attacking move, you always suspect that something special might happen. And indeed it did. A pinpoint strike from Iniesta finally had Forster beaten. All square at half time.
High tension football
Barça knew how important it was not to let Celtic get any corners, for that is where one of their main dangers lies. And indeed it was from one of few the Catalans did give away that Wanyama came close to restoring his side’s lead. Despite having lost Samaras to injury, this chance seemed to be the impetus Celtic needed. They started playing slightly more daring football and produced the occasional threat on the counter, while Barça suddenly found that they weren’t quite as much in command of the situation as they might have felt.
But just when they were playing their sloppiest football, Barça paradoxically started creating more occasions. Forster produced a wonderful 67th minute save to deny Messi following a spectacular move involving Alexis and Pedro, and just moments later, the Hoops’ keeper was called upon again to thwart efforts from both Alexis and Messi. The play was back in the Celtic area.
Alba the hero
With a quarter of an hour to go, Vilanova sent on Tello and Villa for Pedro and Alexis. The Asturian was played as an out-and-out striker in search of a second goal, while Tello and Alba slotted in on the wings. It was a risky move, even though by now Celtic were clearly quite happy to settle for a draw. But Barça wanted more, and made the green-and-whites pay for their lack of ambition.
In the final minute, it looked like Villa had finally done it, but his shot struck the post. However, the best had yet to come. With the referee just seconds away from blowing time on an intense footballing spectacle, Jordi Alba pounced on a killer pass from Adriano. Of all people, the two full backs had combined to bring Barça a goal just when it looked like they had left it too late. The Camp Nou went wild. And had every right to do so. An extraordinarily tense evening had ended in the most dramatic of fashions. And the upshot of it all is that Barcelona maintain their one hundred per cent record and a five-point lead over Celtic, who stay second. A place in the last sixteen is already well in sight.