Pressure is completely off Rodgers in Catalonia, says Sutton
While old guard took results from Camp Nou former striker insists this one’s a ‘freebie’
CHRIS SUTTON believes Celtic’s visit to Camp Nou tomorrow is a “freebie” because nobody expects them to get anything from their opening Champions League match against Barcelona. The former Parkhead striker played in two famous draws in the Catalan capital for the Scottish champions – one of them coming in 2004 when Martin O’Neill’s team knocked out their opponents in the UEFA Cup – and was at the game in Glasgow four seasons ago when a teenaged Tony Watt wrote his name into the history books in the 2-1 victory.
Celtic have a decent record at Camp Nou over the years (we shall draw a veil over that 6-1 defeat from a few years back) and given what happened on Saturday, both in Glasgow and Barcelona, they will arrive in Spain feeling quietly confident.
However, this remains an exceptional Barcelona team who when in the mood will run over far better sides than the Scottish champions. This is why Sutton believes Brendan Rodgers and his men can go into this match with little pressure on them.
BT Sport’s Scottish football expert Sutton said: “Tuesday is a bit of a freebie. The biggest thing was getting into the group stage and in many respects the pressure is off.
“Are results important? Of course. But I’d say that performances are more important. I don’t think anyone expects Celtic to get out of this group. You have Barca, Man City and Moenchengladbach are a really strong side. Celtic will be doing exceptionally well to get beyond Christmas.
“The goal is and always was getting to the group stage. It’s a game changer for the club and four months ago this just wasn’t going to happen. Celtic would have struggled to get into the Europa League. It’s an enormous thing and the players should enjoy it. The players and Brendan will have a personal pride and it’s important that the players go over, give it a go and show that it’s a totally different side that was a shambles competing in Europe last season.”
Sutton, who writes a column in the Daily Record, was a persistent critic of Ronny Deila, a man he said from the start wasn’t up to the task of managing Celtic. He was proven right.
And it’s because of Celtic’s dismal record under the Norwegian in Europe that he sees Tuesday night as something to look forward to rather than to be worried about.
Sutton said: “If you go back to Molde last season, and I was over there, if someone had said at that particular time that we would be in Barcelona in early September playing Champions League football you would have thought they were absolutely bonkers and drank too much Norwegian beer.”
Even if Celtic can produce the performance of their lives, they will need to do some defending and for long spells. Celtic have only kept two clean sheets all season and this is why there is a feeling Rodgers will go with a back five, and Sutton will be glad to see Kolo Toure in the centre of it all, standing up to Lionel Messi and the rest.
Sutton said: “We have all sat and watched the games over the last couple of seasons and Celtic have been picked off defensively against opposition who aren’t as good as they’re going to play this season.
“Brendan Rodgers obviously had to come in and make changes defensively, bringing in Toure with his experience and I still think he has enough pace. I think in the Be’er Sheva game he was one player who came out of that with any credit.
“We all know what’s going to happen in the Nou Camp in terms of Barcelona controlling possession; they’re not a team that’s going to load balls in the box from wide areas they are going to try to play through.
“It’s important that they have an organiser at the back and that’s what Toure was brought in for, essentially. It’s crucial that Celtic stay in the game for as long as possible. It’s an obvious thing to say, but as players that’s what you feel: weather that first 20, 25 minutes and then play your way into the game.
“But Celtic do have pace on the counter and that’s something, a dimension, that Scott Sinclair especially has given Celtic. It will be interested to see the team selection. I know Brendan said he likes to take a risk but he won’t go 4-4-2.
“It will be interesting to see if he plays James Forrest or Patrick Roberts on the other side.”
So can this Celtic side do what Sutton’s team achieved twice which was to come away from Catalonia with a draw?
Sutton recalled: “To be honest we went into those games, as we did against most teams at Champions League level – I’m not saying we were a better team than Barcelona, clearly – but we always felt if we turned up and worked hard and competed that, with the likes of Henrik Larsson and John Hartson up top, we had a threat from set-pieces.
“We were aware of that and exploited that in the 1-1 draw.
“You always feel if you stay in the game you have an opportunity. That will be the same on Tuesday night. If Celtic can keep it tight at the back something might just happen, somebody might just make a name for himself.”
You have Barca, Man City and Moenchengladbach are a really strong side. Celtic will be doing exceptionally well to get beyond Christmas
AIRING HIS VIEWS: BT Sport’s Chris Sutton will be in Camp Nou for Celtic’s Champions League Group C opener against Barcelona tomorrow night.